AR   2019-11-19
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Boris Johnson fights Jeremy
Corbyn tonight in a TV debate.
Conservatives are polling 42%,
with Labour 30%, but Johnson
leads Corbyn 41% to 22% on
who would be the better
prime minister.

Lewis Carroll [ed]


New IR views of Titan


2019 November 19

Israeli Settlements

The New York Times

The Trump administration says the United States does not consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law. This is a political gift from Trump to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who vows to push for the annexation of the West Bank.

AR Another outrage for "antisemitic" agitators who object to the settlements.



David Graeber

We live in a different economic universe than we did before the crash of 2008. Yet the language of public debate remains largely unchanged.
In the UK, Conservative governments discovered that a rhetoric of austerity played well with the British public, allowing them to win broad popular acceptance for policies designed to pare down what little remained of the British welfare state and redistribute resources toward the rich.
Modern money is credit, and banks can and do create money by making loans. Almost all of the money circulating in Britain was created by banks in this way. The main function of the Bank of England is to determine how much private banks can charge for the money they create.
An endless war about the nature of money makes it impossible to say for certain whether the money supply drives prices, or prices drive the money supply. This comes down to a choice between exogenous and endogenous theories of money.
The quantity theory of money is obviously wrong. Doubling the amount of gold in a country will have no effect on the price of cheese if you give all the gold to rich people and they just bury it in their yards. What actually matters is spending.
In England, in 1696, Sir Isaac Newton accepted that silver coins had to be devalued to prevent a deflationary collapse. John Locke argued that the government should be limited to guaranteeing the value of property and that tinkering would confuse investors and defraud creditors. Locke won, and the result was deflationary collapse.
The pattern was repeated itself again and again. The government adopts hard-money policies as a matter of principle, disaster ensues, the government quietly abandons hard-money policies, the economy recovers, and yet hard-money philosophy remains simple common sense.
David Hume introduced the notion that short-term shocks would create long-term benefits if they unleashed the self-regulating powers of the market. But the premise that markets will always right themselves in the end can only be tested if we can say when the end is.
There are plenty of ways for a modern state to fund itself. Many are considerably more efficient than income tax. But income tax is a deliberately intrusive and exasperating intrusion of the bureaucratic state that also allows its leaders to posture for small government.
Microeconomics was transformed from a tool for calculating how market actors make decisions to a general philosophy of human life. It was based on false assumptions, for example that humans are rational actors motivated exclusively by self-interest, who know exactly what they want, never change their minds, and have complete access to all relevant pricing information.
In short, we are expected to pretend that markets cannot be wrong. This answers the question of why no one saw the crash coming.

AR It seems economics is a ideology of oppression, propaganda for the haves.



The Times

Every year, 100 megatons of clean water is flushed down toilets, water we cannot afford to lose. Scientists have now developed a new toilet surfacing material that lubricates fecal deposits so that water usage can be reduced.
The Gates Foundation has invested $200 million into clean waste and sanitation projects. Bill Gates compares the transition to new toilets to the PC revolution. Responsible water management is a benchmark of civilization.

AR We should recycle all that fecal waste as fertilizer.

2019 November 18


The Guardian

The SPD long since abandoned its ambition to replace capitalism with socialism and became a Volkspartei. For over 50 years, the SPD and the CDU have dominated the political center.
ECB head Christine Lagarde suggests Germany should spend more and save less to boost the EZ. SPD leadership candidate Olaf Scholz is federal minister for finance and is committed to balanced budgets. Two opposing candidates call for massive investment and more borrowing.
The challenges of low growth, deindustrialization, migration, and the fallout from the crash have led to a crisis of the center. Germany's response carries a special weight within Europe.


European Monetary Union

Thomas Mayer

EMU has failed to reach completion. Banking union was supposed to complete it, but it still lacks a common deposit insurance.
I suggest creating a digital euro:
1 Introduce a bank deposit fully backed with central bank money. Let the ECB raise funds to cover the deposit by purchasing outstanding EZ government bonds.
2 Set up the secure deposit as digital central bank money that can be transferred from person to person or company to company using blockchain technology.
3 Issue the electronic euro via the ECB and back it by government bonds. To protect it from abuse, give it a digital watermark.



New Scientist

NASA researchers have made a map of the geology of Saturn's moon Titan.
Titan's atmosphere blocks visible light from reaching the surface, so the NASA Cassini spacecraft took radar and infrared data of the surface.
A JPL team sorted the data into six categories — lakes, craters, dunes, plains, hummocky terrain, and labyrinth — and made a map of Titan's surface.
The landscape type depends on latitude. The equator is mostly covered in dunes, with plains in the mid-latitudes, and lakes and labyrinths near the poles.
We can now work on the geological processes shaping the landscape.


How Galaxies Evolve

New Scientist

A massive simulation of the universe modeling tens of thousands of galaxies will run for 50 days across 30 000 computer processors in Durham and Paris.
The simulation includes the physics of both baryonic matter and dark matter. It also includes the physics of star and black hole formation, as well as conditions at the big bang.
By simulating what the universe looked like at different times, the researchers can test theories about how galaxies are related to the growth of black holes, and what happens when they die.

AR I saw in 1989 that simulation is the third way in science, between theory and experiment.

Boris in Red Square

The Conservative party has received donations from nine Russian donors, with suspected links to the Kremlin, says a
UK ISC report. Boris Johnson has blocked publication of the report until after the upcoming general election.
Leaked details tie the party to Russian oligarchs based in London, some with known ties to Russian security services.
There has been a surge in donations from prominent Russians to the Conservative party over the past year.


⦿ Adam Stevenson
Australian apocalypse


Railway Modeller

Mercury (dot at center)
on its latest solar transit


Vikki Slade
MDNP LD PPC Vikki Slade
says Revoke is right


2019 November 17

The Elephant in the Election

Hugo Dixon

Conservative and Labour candidates don't want to talk about Brexit. Even the Lib Dems and the Brexit Party are avoiding the elephant in the room.
Boris Johnson is embarrassed by the terrible deal he's done to get us out of the EU. He pretends he'll "get Brexit done" — but he's nowhere near agreeing a future trade agreement. He'd rather talk about anything else.
Labour has a convoluted policy that involves renegotiating the exit deal, deciding whether they like it, and then asking the people what they want in a referendum — hard to explain on a doorstep.
Lib Dems do want to talk about Brexit. But they are making a bad fist of it. They need to push harder to ram home their Remainer stance.
Nigel Farage is grabbing attention. But his dirty deal with Johnson has muddied his message. He should be saying the prime minister will turn the UK into a vassal state.
All the politicians are avoiding the election elephant. If Johnson wins, the media will have a lot to answer for.


From Brexit to Little England

Isaac Chotiner

Fintan O'Toole is concerned about a UK severed from the EU. Britain emerged from WW2 at once victorious and shrunken, the image of plucky heroism and imperial twilight.
O'Toole: "The power of Brexit is that it promised .. a liberation, not from Europe, but from the torment of an eternally unresolved conflict between superiority and inferiority."
The British empire had once helped stitch together English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish national identities. A united Europe offered a potential home for the smaller nations.
O'Toole: "There is an imperial nationalism and an anti-imperial nationalism; one sets out to dominate the world, the other to throw off such dominance. The incoherence of the new English nationalism that lies behind Brexit is that it wants to be both simultaneously."
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has struck a Brexit deal with the EU that could lead to a united Ireland and an independent Scotland. The Brexiteers may end up in little England.
O'Toole: "Without the EU as whipping boy and scapegoat, there will be no end of blame and no shortage of candidates .. everyone except the Brexiteers themselves."



Guy de Jonquières

Brexiteers laud Singapore as a model for the UK economy after it leaves the EU.
Singapore boasts a growth rate averaging over 7% annually since 1970, though it has slowed to a crawl of late, and its income per head at market rates is 50% higher than in the UK.
Singapore also has efficient modern infrastructure, good basic education, and a stable government. It is a major regional trading hub linked into cross-border supply chains. In contrast, Brexit threatens to impede UK business in the EU and to disrupt supply chains.
Singapore has more than twice as many civil servants per capita as the UK, with rules for almost everything. The tax take is 15% of GDP and its income tax top rate is 22%, but employees must also pay 20% and their employers 17% of their salaries into a state retirement and social security fund. Corporate tax is barely lower than in Britain.
Singapore is lightly regulated in only two ways. It has an open-door immigration policy and a labor market with minimal social protection.
Singapore is not the kind of model that Brexiteers dream of for Britain.

2019 November 16

Donald Trump, Corruption Fighter?

The New York Times

Republican defenders of Donald Trump say he withheld military aid to Ukraine because he wanted assurances that new Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky was serious about fighting corruption.
Sworn testimony in the House impeachment inquiry on Friday obliterated that defense.
US Embassy in Kiev official David Holmes said he overheard a telephone conversation in which US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland assured Trump that Zelensky would open investigations into the family of Joe Biden.
Marie Yovanovitch, the top US envoy to Ukraine until Trump yanked her back this spring, described how, as she sought to promote democracy and rule of law in Ukraine, Trump lawyer Rudi Giuliani worked with a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor to trash her reputation and force her out.
For Trump, her pursuit of anticorruption efforts was evidently a problem. His treatment of her and his conversation with Sondland do not square with any claim that Trump was intent on advancing the rule of law, as opposed to his own political interest.
After Trump first spoke with Zelensky to congratulate him on his electoral victory, Trump spoke not a word about corruption.

2019 November 15

Trump Britain

Evening Standard

US President Donald Trump will travel to the UK for a visit from Monday to Wednesday December 2−4 for a NATO meeting.

AR He will doubtless stick his thumb in the UK election pie.


OK Boomer

India Ross

The "OK Boomer" meme has come to symbolize a generational cultural fracture. Millennial and Gen Z cohorts feel increasingly let down by boomers who have left them with unaffordable housing and an impending climate apocalypse.
The meme crystalizes an agitation that has been brewing for a decade. The circumstances that gave rise to it may lead to its prophecy of intergenerational divorce being fulfilled. Outrage only puts boomers further out of touch.


Matrix Math and Neutrinos

Natalie Wolchover

Terence Tao is a math professor at UCLA and a Fields medalist. In August 2019, he read an email from a trio of physicists.
Stephen Parke, Xining Zhang, and Peter Denton said they had found a simple formula giving an unexpected relationship in linear algebra while studying neutrinos. They had seen that eigenvectors describing how neutrinos propagate through matter were equal to eigenvalues and realized that the relationship seemed to hold more generally.
Days later, the trio and Tao posted a paper online reporting the new formula. In another paper, the trio used the formula to streamline equations for neutrinos.
Eigenvectors and eigenvalues characterize linear transformations represented by matrices. The eigenvectors of a matrix are the vectors that keep the same direction when the matrix is applied. How much a matrix resizes its eigenvectors is given by the corresponding eigenvalue.
Eigenvectors and eigenvalues are independent, and normally they must be calculated separately. The new formula differs from existing methods by expressing each eigenvector of a Hermitian matrix in terms of its eigenvalues and those of a minor matrix formed by deleting a row and column.
Tao: "It's so pretty that I'm sure it will have some use in the near future. Right now, we just have one application."
That application is neutrinos. These come in three flavors — electron (νe), muon (νμ), tau (ντ) — and undergo quantum oscillations between the flavors on the fly. A matrix describes the oscillations. Its eigenvectors and eigenvalues give the probability that a muon neutrino will oscillate into an electron neutrino in flight and vice versa.
Differences in the behavior of neutrinos and antineutrinos may explain why matter dominates over antimatter in the universe. If these opposites had arisen in equal amounts in the Big Bang, they would have annihilated and left a cosmos empty of all but light.

AR I how math and physics fructify each other.

2019 November 14

End of Empire

Donald Tusk

The UK election takes place in four weeks. Things become irreversible only when people start to think so. Don't give up.
Brexiteers say they want to leave the EU to make the UK global again. You can hear in their voices a longing for the empire. But the reality is exactly the opposite. Only as part of a united Europe can the UK play a global role, and the world knows it.
I have heard the same in India, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and South Africa, that after its departure the UK will become an outsider, a second-rate player, while the main battlefield will be occupied by China, the United States, and the European Union.
"Why are they doing this?" — I was asked this regretful question everywhere I went. Brexit is the real end of the British empire.

On Poland Emmanuel Macron hopes Poles will change their position on Russia. I don't. Russia is not our strategic partner but our strategic problem.


Russian Money

Oliver Bullough

Someone in Downing Street calculated that it was less embarrassing to suppress the Intelligence and Security Committee report into Russian interference in the UK than it was to publish it.
Boris Johnson's refusal to allow voters to read the report made waves in parliament a week ago. The election campaign has offered a convenient distraction since then. Fifty pages of revelations about rich Russians funding political parties and associating with politicians, as well as Russian bots meddling in the referendum, were too much for him.
The report will only emerge once Britain has a new parliament. But the toxic relationship between the Russian and British elites needs exposure. They have been collaborating to the detriment of democracy and accountability for decades.
Back in 1956, English and Soviet banks saw an opportunity to undermine Cold War barriers. The USSR started banking its dollars in London. This generated a new revenue stream for a moribund City of London and gave the Soviets easy access to the global financial system.
London and its associated tax havens became a shady market for all comers. After the Soviet collapse, central bankers in Moscow used a Jersey shell company to earn profits while hiding government money from the IMF. London was the sewer for criminals to drain money out of Russia and spend it on luxury goods abroad.
Where the money went, the crime and murders followed. UK politicians have underestimated the risks that come with Russian money.

2019 November 13

Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

Public hearings begin: NYT correspondents provide live analysis and insights.


Rod the Mod's Railway

David Wilkes

Sir Rod Stewart, 74, has a model railway that took him 26 years to build. His 38 m × 7 m layout depicting a US city and its industrial hinterland in the 1940s contains hundreds of buildings.
Called Grand Street and Three Rivers City, it also features a railway station crossed by numerous bridges at rush hour. The trains, as well as hundreds of cars and trucks, are surrounded by lush landscape and lit in the colors of late afternoon sunshine.
Sir Rod told Railway Modeller magazine: "It's the landscape I like. Attention to detail, extreme detail, is paramount. There shouldn't be any unsightly gaps or pavements that are too clean."
During his life on the road as a rock musician, Sir Rod used railway modeling as an escape from the pressures of touring. He would take kits, tools, and paints with him and book an extra hotel room as a workshop. He began to build the layout in 1993 in the attic of his new house in Los Angeles.
Sir Rod: "I find beauty in what everyone else sees as ugly — rugged skyscrapers, beaten-up warehouses, things that are very run down."
His passion was first kindled as a kid on a family holiday in Bognor Regis where he saw a railway layout in a model shop. He soon had his own model railway. But when he wanted a station for it, his dad bought him a guitar instead.
After nine #1 albums and 62 hit singles in the UK, Sir Rod's fortune now stands at £190 million.
Sir Rod: "When I take on something creative like this, I have to give it 110%."

AR For me, this is his greatest artistic work.

2019 November 12

Political Kitsch

Alexander Grau

Kitsch awakens strong, simple emotions. Political kitsch is similar. Its language or symbols are exaggerated, caricatured, pathetic, cute, sometimes hysterical, and aimed at mass media. Its rhetorical function is to emotionalize and to shut down argument.
Political kitsch arose in the bourgeois era. Totalitarian regimes like the Soviet Union and the Third Reich used it. Today democracies use it too, to portray people with different views as emotionally deficient troublemakers. Such tactics harm democracy.


Philosophical Realism

Markus Gabriel

There are limits to what we can know about the universe. Knowing anything about the universe requires changing the universe. Running an experiment interferes with the target system.
Similar things apply to the human mind. I change my mental state by thinking about it. This is the paradox of self-consciousness.
A human being is the kind of animal that sometimes leads a life in light of the question of how it fits into the mindless universe. If you do that, you are engaged in the activity of being human.
Some say we might be unable to understand reality due to inherent limitations of the brain. The idea that reality is an illusion makes it hard to see how there can be objective knowledge of facts.
I would define objectivity as the feature of human minds to get things right or wrong. Nothing that we know from neuroscience or psychology should ever stand in the way of recognizing our capacity to know how reality is.
Continental philosophy typically just means postmodernism, which says our knowledge claims are just expressions of a will to power. Analytic philosophy usually just means philosophy, letting your arguments be falsified by better ones and better scientific evidence. I try to combine both.
NYU professor Crispin Wright came to Heidelberg for a series of seminars about skepticism. I started worrying about skepticism and came to work at NYU.
I believe we need to reconcile continental philosophy and analytic philosophy. The space in between is what I call New Realism. I claim we can know reality as it is, but the world does not exist. No one can bring all facts into view in one big world picture.
We should strive to implement universal value grounded in facts about the human being and not in social activism. My target is the Nietzschean tradition in moral philosophy that undermines the value of rationality. Nietzsche was a social activist.

AR Crispin Wright was my Oxford research supervisor from 1975 to 1977. I met neither Wright nor Gabriel in Heidelberg, but I did review Gabriel's 2015 book Warum es die Welt nicht gibt.

2019 Armistice Day

European Security

Heiko Maas

Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall we have still not experienced the end of history. We can no longer take for granted that we in Germany live in peace and security. Germany must assume greater responsibility for peace and security in Europe.
President Macron was right to seek a strong and sovereign Europe. In future, we Europeans will have to assume far greater responsibility for our security. We are therefore working at full speed with France on a Europe that cooperates far more closely on security policy.
Without the United States, neither Germany nor Europe are in a position to protect themselves effectively. It would be irresponsible to pursue a foreign and security policy without Washington, and dangerous to decouple European security from American security. We want a strong and sovereign Europe as part of a strong NATO.
We must not divide Europeans on security matters. Germany will not tolerate special arrangements. Our neighbors in Poland and the Baltic can trust us to take their security needs as seriously as we take our own. A strong and sovereign Europe is a project on which nobody may be left behind.
We have to steer a firm course toward a strong Europe as a community project involving all Europeans. Germany must play a central role. If we do not assume this leadership role, nobody will.
We need a European Security Council to serve as the venue for pooling European foreign and security policy actions. The UK must be involved, even if it leaves the EU. And Washington must be a key partner.


European Security

Mateusz Morawiecki

NATO is the most important alliance in the world when it comes to preserving freedom and peace.
The United States has always supported Europe, and if it were not for US help, Europe would not have liberated itself from the German Nazi occupation. France is spending below the NATO target on defense. Certain aspects of NATO do not look as we wish: Reciprocity is lacking on the part of some European allies.
NATO is the primary source of security for Poland. Europe cannot pretend nothing has happened in Ukraine, Belarus, or Georgia. We favor cooperating with a peaceful and democratic Russia. President Macron does not feel the hot breath of the Russian bear on his neck.


European Security

Financial Times

The lack of debate about defense and security in the UK election campaign contrasts with discussions in Berlin, Paris, and other EU capitals about the US-European relationship and European search for strategic autonomy.
A Franco-German proposal to create a European Security Council alongside NATO would include the UK. The UK would continue to be closely aligned with continental Europe even after Brexit.

AR I have standardized on American English here because after Brexit Europeans will no longer wish to adapt to British ways but will still wish to be understood by Americans.


Climate Change

Eugene Linden

Science is a process of discovery. But in the case of climate, this deliberation has been accompanied by inertia born of bureaucratic caution and politics. This has diluted what should have been a sense of urgency and understated the looming costs of adaptation and dislocation.
In 1990, the IPCC said in its first report that climate change would arrive at a stately pace, that the methane-laden Arctic permafrost was not in danger of thawing, and that the Antarctic ice sheets were stable.
Last year, the IPCC detailed the difficulty of limiting warming to 1.5 K over the next 80 years and the grim consequences that will result even if that goal is met.
The discovery of sudden climate change came as a shock to scientists. A NAS report in 1975 concluded it would take centuries for the climate to change in a meaningful way. In 2002, the NAS acknowledged the reality of rapid climate change.
Studies of ice cores extracted from the Greenland ice sheet show there have been 25 rapid climate change events in the last glacial period.
Were the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica to melt, sea levels would rise by an estimated 70 m worldwide. They have been shedding ice far more rapidly than anticipated.
By 2014, an irreversible collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet had begun. Computer modeling in 2016 indicated that its disintegration in concert with other melting could raise sea levels up to 2 m by 2100. The East Antarctic ice sheet may also be shedding its ice.
As the seas rise, they are also warming. A warmer ocean means more powerful storms and die-offs of marine life.
The melting of permafrost has also defied expectations. In 2005, the NCAR estimated that most of the upper layer of permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere could thaw by 2100, releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The Trump administration has its own view of climate change: Bring it on!

2019 Remembrance Sunday

Poole Park Commemoration

Bournemouth Echo photos

AR I laid a wreath on behalf of Poole Rotarians.



Alun Anderson

Christof Koch presents a theory of consciousness that makes clear and testable predictions. It says computers can never be conscious, while many species of animal have sparks of consciousness. It suggests that meditators can experience the great void and that lovers can meld minds. And it suggests that consciousness has a function.
Giulio Tononi devised the integrated information theory of consciousness (IIT). IIT can be captured in five principles:
⦿ Consciousness is intrinsic, a private experience that exists for itself.
⦿ Experience is structured, containing many different things.
⦿ Each conscious experience is informative and differs from every other one.
⦿ Consciousness is integrated into one whole picture.
⦿ Consciousness is definite: you have one conscious experience at a time.
Tononi proposes these principles to test whether a mechanism can generate experience. He goes from experience to a defining physical theory of consciousness.
Koch says consciousness must have an internal structure that gives it causal power over itself. This implies that re-entrant processing is essential for consciousness. He says this is consistent with his search for consciousness in the brain.
IIT explains how meditation might lead to a profound sense of the void. Calming nervous activity does not lead to unconsciousness because the absence of presence is distinct from the presence of absence. One leads to unconsciousness, the other to pure consciousness.
Tonini builds on research in which software "animats" learned over generations to navigate mazes and led to the evolution of skilled animats that integrated information well. This suggests a survival advantage for consciousness.

The Feeling of Life Itself by Christof Koch

AR Elapsed time is key to consciousness.

Berlin Wall

⦿ A. Kaiser
Fall of the Berlin Wall, November 1989



2019 November 9

Europa muss auch die Sprache der Macht lernen

Ursula von der Leyen

Es sind Bilder der Freude und der Hoffnung, die wir in Erinnerung haben, wenn wir an den 9. November 1989 denken. Deutschland wird dies insbesondere den USA, dem VK und Frankreich immer danken. In diesen Dank möchte ich die NATO einschließen.
Europa ist für meine Kinder Heimat, aber Deutschland ebenso. Die Kraft der Idee Europa ist ungebrochen. Es gibt keine Herausforderung für Europa, die nicht mit den Stärken Europas bewältigt werden kann.
Auch der Brexit ist ein gutes Beispiel dafür, wie Europa aus der Krise neue Kraft schöpft. Ja, ausgerechnet der Brexit. Wir alle bedauern, dass unsere britischen Freunde die EU verlassen wollen. Der Brexit wurde nicht zum Start eines Zerfallsprozesses für die EU.
Europa ist heute attraktiver als wir selbst oft glauben: Rechtsstaat, Freiheit, Demokratie, Offenheit für viele Lebensentwürfe — das finden junge Menschen nicht in China oder Russland. Ich bin zutiefst davon überzeugt, dass Europa im digitalen Zeitalter eine attraktive Adresse bleiben wird. Auch gegenüber den USA und China.
30 Jahre nach der friedlichen Revolution können wir stolz sein auf den Mut, der den Osten und den Westen Europas wieder zusammengebracht hat.

AR Brexit ist noch keine geschlossene Sache. Das "demokratische Ereignis" muss erst geschehen.


2020 vision


A parliamentary inquiry by the
UK Intelligence and Security
Committee (ISC) says Moscow
has built a network of friends
in the British establishment.
ISC chair Dominic Grieve says
the PM is "sitting on" the final
report for no good reason.

AR I await the leak



Make love not Brexit

My Tory Years
New photos added


2019 November 8

Big Tech

Rana Foroohar

Apple became the world's first trillion-dollar market-cap company in 2018. The digital economy has a tendency to create superstars. Its concentration of power is a key reason for record levels of mergers and acquisitions.
The next big crisis will probably emanate from the corporate sector. For the past several years, the corporate bond market has been on a tear, with companies in advanced economies issuing a record amount of debt, to reach over $10 trillion in 2018.
The Silicon Valley giants are the most profitable and least regulated industry on the planet. They are also systemically crucial within the marketplace, holding assets that could topple the markets. Big tech is the new too-big-to-fail industry.
Much of the big tech response to the 2016 election crisis mirrored banking sector behavior in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008. Big tech and big banks are also similar in the opacity and complexity of their operations.
The tendency to see share price as the one and only indicator of value is by no means limited to Wall Street. Maximization of shareholder value is part of the larger process of financialization. Markets have become the tail that wags the dog.
The large tech companies are run by business leaders who came of age when government was the enemy and profit maximization the way forward. Regulation of corporate behavior was seen as authoritarian.
American big tech has been at the forefront of globalization for decades. Tech firms are more able than any other type of company to move business abroad, because most of their wealth is in data, human capital, patents, and software, which are mobile.
As with the banks, systemic regulation may be the only way to rein in big tech.

Don't Be Evil: The case against big tech

AR As a former big tech employee, I absorbed the notion that such companies know better how to spend their money than governments. The companies are also good for their employees, suppliers and customers, and even eager to set a good example of responsible corporate citizenship. So cut them some slack.



Matthew Hutson

Kenneth Stanley is a pioneer in a field of artificial intelligence called neuroevolution.
His steppingstone principle goes beyond traditional evolutionary approaches. Instead of optimizing for a specific goal, it embraces creative exploration of all possible solutions. In this, it resembles biological evolution, where the tree of life has no overarching goal and allows exaptation.
Stanley used an approach called novelty search. In a neural network, the output of one layer of neurons gets passed to the next layer via connections that have weights. In neuroevolution, you start by assigning random values to the weights between layers.
At first, the network is not much good at anything. But you then create a set of random mutations and evaluate their abilities. You keep the best ones, produce more offspring, and repeat. Eventually, the algorithms get pretty good at something.
The DeepMind team has a growing interest in neuroevolution.

2019 November 7

European Danger

Emmanuel Macron

We are experiencing the brain death of NATO. You have no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision making between the United States and its NATO allies. You have an uncoordinated aggressive action by another NATO ally, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at stake.
NATO only works if the guarantor of last resort functions as such. We should reassess the commitment of the United States. The EU must develop a military force and enhance its ability to act as one.
We see things that were unthinkable five years ago. We are wearing ourselves out over Brexit, Europe is finding it difficult to move forward, an American ally is turning its back on us. If we don't wake up, we in Europe risk losing control of our destiny.

German chancellor Angela Merkel: "I don't think that such sweeping judgements are necessary, even if we have problems and need to pull together."
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo: "I think NATO remains an important, critical, perhaps historically one of the most critical, strategic partnerships in all of recorded history."


European Identity

Jens Spahn

As German health minister, I am deeply concerned about the destabilization of our society. Throughout western societies, political debates have turned hostile. Internal cohesion is eroding, and international cooperation is diminishing.
In the UK and Germany, the most salient political issues are wealth redistribution and migration. Our strong welfare states cushion economic polarization. But uncontrolled immigration into a welfare state can reduce support for redistribution.
Our debates are about identity. Centrist parties can bridge our divisions. We Germans remain firmly committed to European integration. As a foundation, I propose weltoffener Patriotismus.


UK Spending Spree

Evening Standard

Conservative chancellor Sajid Javid and Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell have launched an election spending war. Javid promised a £100 billion for roads, rail, broadband, and buildings over the next five years. McDonnell promised to find funding for £400 billion of new investment.

2019 November 6

UK Parliament Dissolved

BBC News

Parliament was dissolved in the early hours of this morning. The prime minister has informed the Queen at Buckingham Palace. She had opened parliament to great fanfare on 14 October.




UK-USA — Yukuza — collaboration on intelligence, for example within the Five Eyes community with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, is the ongoing basis for Anglophone hegemony on planet Earth. Pax Yukuza is global, except in Asia where Russia and China resist it, in the Mideast region where violent chaos reigns, and in most of Africa where politics is more local.
Historically, Pax Yukuza builds on the remains of the British empire and continues the civilizing mission of the ancient Roman empire. So long as the UK remains in the European Union, Yukuza retains a line of civilizational continuity with the classical world. Outside the EU, the UK will begin to lose this link and become the marker of a fissure in the old empire, much as Constantinople broke free of Rome and formed the eastern Byzantine empire. The difference is that not London but Washington will be the capital of the breakaway empire. The new Rome will be Brussels or Berlin, depending on how the EU develops.
Yukuza, the new Byzantium, will face new forms of empire in Persia, Russia, and China. The fissure between Yukuza and the EU will grow, perhaps until it resembles the contested zone between Eastern and Western Christendom a thousand years ago. The British Isles will be on the front line, perhaps heavily militarized like eastern Prussia long ago. No good will come of this.

2019 November 5

Boo Trump

Ross Barkan

Donald Trump has come to dominate America's psyche as its most famous and polarizing president ever. There is no middle ground anymore.
For the millions who feel enraged and despondent over Trump's ennobling of white supremacists or his insidious environmental and immigration policies, trying to remain an informed citizen can amount to an exercise in psychic torture.
All that is left is protest. Trump deserves to be jeered and mocked wherever he goes.


Boo Johnson

Rachel Sylvester

Political parties have a smell that wafts around them during a campaign. It emanates from the attitude and tone of the leader, as well as the image and reputation of the candidates.
Boris Johnson hopes voters will be put off Jeremy Corbyn by the stink of antisemitism and the musty bouquet of Marxism. Johnson wants to pump out a fragrant hint of optimism. But Conservatives are giving out a noxious smell as they try to fight off Nigel Farage.
A senior Conservative: "There's definitely a whiff of toxic masculinity around at the top of the Tory party at the moment."
Johnson will lose half his voters if he keeps spraying himself with Eau de Farage.


Tactical Voting Advice

Naomi Smith

Best for Britain suggests voting Liberal Democrat, not Labour, in a number of marginal seats. Our mission is not to help any party. It is to stop Boris Johnson, stop the Brexit party, and stop Brexit.
We use multilevel regression and poststratification (MRP): Our MRP was done in the last couple of weeks, with a huge sample size of 46,000 voters. We will update it closer to polling day.


Cosmological Crisis

New Scientist

Measurements from the Planck space observatory have shown that the universe might be shaped like a sphere rather than a flat sheet. The Planck observatory (2009−2013) mapped the cosmic microwave background.
One set of observations showed more gravitational lensing than expected. A team calculated that this could be because the shape of the universe is different from what we thought.
All other cosmological data suggests the universe is flat. These Planck measurements say it could be closed. The extra lensing implies the presence of extra dark matter, which would pull the universe into a finite sphere instead of a flat sheet.
According to these observations, the universe is 41 times more likely to be closed than flat.

Planck evidence for a closed universe and a possible crisis for cosmology
Eleonora Di Valentino, Alessandro Melchiorri, Joseph Silk

The Planck Legacy 2018 release has confirmed the presence of an enhanced lensing amplitude in CMB power spectra compared with that predicted in the standard ΛCDM model.
A closed universe can provide a physical explanation for this effect. Positive curvature also removes a tension in the Planck dataset concerning the values of cosmological parameters derived at different angular scales.
The assumption of a flat universe may mask a cosmological crisis.

AR I always thought a closed model was neater.


Berlin Wall
A. Kaiser
Berlin Wall
November 1989



My Tory Years
Extended Edition


2019 November 4

UK Parliament: New Speaker

BBC News, 2025 UTC

MPs have elected Sir Lindsay Hoyle as the new Commons Speaker.

AR Farewell John Bercow.


Their Saddest Hour

Nicholas Kristof

Britain has gone nuts. People may look back and say: This was their saddest hour.
Brexit may cause the UK to fragment. Prime minister Boris Johnson is leading in the polls as he recklessly pursues a path that is damaging his country economically and risks dismembering it.
The new Brexit deal would leave Northern Ireland more integrated with Ireland than with the rest of Britain, and pressure for Irish unification will grow. In Scotland, a plurality now favor independence, and there are calls for a new referendum on independence. Even in Wales, some 40% of people favor separation if they can remain in the EU.
If the UK fragments and the economy continues to decline, it will be because of the foolhardy and mendacious campaign led by Johnson and his enablers.

AR What would Winston do? Revoke article 50.


East Germany

The Times

Polls suggest the AfD is now the most popular party across east Germany. In a string of recent state elections it has more than doubled its support with a campaign portraying east Germans as victims.
Linke senior Gregor Gysi: "The east Germans start with the assumption that they are the losers of history, because they were occupied by the Soviet Union .. The GDR was a closed society .. The east Germans felt themselves to be second-class Germans during reunification."



Kurt Starke

Frauen waren meist berufstätig in der DDR. Damit waren sie finanziell nicht auf den Partner angewiesen. Es gab eine totale Akzeptanz des vorehelichen Geschlechtsverkehrs.
Obwohl in der DDR viel früher geheiratet wurde, hatten fast alle schon zuvor Geschlechtsverkehr gehabt. Die Jungfernschaft war kein Kriterium für den Wert einer Frau.
Scheidungen waren einfacher als im Westen und gingen meistens von der Frau aus. Sie musste keine Beziehung des Geldes wegen aufrechterhalten.
Nacktheit wurde nicht kommerzialisiert. Daher blieb auch die Entfremdung vom eigenen Körper aus. Die Pornografie war verboten, mit der Begründung, sie widerspräche der Würde der Frau.
Zu hoffen ist, dass unsere Gesellschaft sich stärker in die Lage versetzt fühlt, das Sexuelle zu schützen und der Liebe eine Chance zu geben.


2019 November 3



AR I binge-watched all five episodes again last night. This is a powerful drama with real historical bite. In its impact and aftermath, the catastrophe was as near to a nuclear war as our civilized world should ever dare to go. Anyone who can watch this drama and say we still need to threaten to annihilate our enemies with the weapons of mass destruction fitted on top of our strategic ballistic missiles should be banished from civilized society.
We need a global push to eliminate these hideous weapons once and for all. Humans are surely civilized enough today to resolve their differences through political discussion — or at worst the calibrated use of finely targeted force — rather than open hostilities on the MAD scale that loomed during the Cold War. No human conflict in our present world is worth an aftermath on the scale resembling the one depicted in Chernobyl.

2019 November 2

Running SAP

Jennifer Morgan

Former SAP CEO Bill McDermott had promoted me to be North American boss. That was when we took over the first cloud companies.
At the end of September 2019, Bill asked me to come to California to talk to SAP founder and board chairman Hasso Plattner and him about the business. Hasso was very serious, almost solemn. And then he told me to run SAP with Christian Klein, who's only 39 years old.
I'm proud of how smoothly and professionally we delivered the handover. We do a tough job. This is only possible if you have fun and trust each other. And it sends the right signal to the company — that teamwork is required.
At SAP, we have to learn to become easier ourselves, otherwise we can't offer simple solutions. Investors will only get a better margin if we work on the client's success. We want to show we're listening. I want to talk to the one who has the most experience on a topic, not the most titles.
I will not tolerate a poisoned climate in the company. You need a healthy environment to be fast, to bring ideas, to solve problems. It's about trust and respect.
We have nearly 100,000 employees. You have to be motivated, enthusiastic. Leadership is about selflessness.

AR I wish her well. I could tell her about my happy years at SAP, but I probably won't.


Leaving Bluekip

Matthew Parris

Fifty years ago, I joined the Conservatives. Ten years later, I was the MP for my home constituency. Today I am leaving the Conservative Party.
Democracy is a force to be negotiated with. Responsible Tories are not there to lick the boots of the mob but to tell people sometimes unwelcome truths. I am a conservative, not a Liberal Democrat, but will unhesitatingly vote Lib Dem this time to defeat Tory zealotry over Europe.

AR I sympathize — see left.

2019 All Saints Day

War of Leave on Leave

BBC News, 1416 UTC

Brexit party leader Nigel Farage calls on Boris Johnson to ditch his Brexit deal and build a Leave alliance by November 14. Otherwise, "the Brexit party will be the only party standing in these elections that actually represents Brexit."

AR Bring it on, Nigel.


Making Britain Great Again

Donald Trump, talking with Nigel Farage

Donald Trump, talking with Nigel Farage On Jeremy Corbyn: "Corbyn would be so bad for your country, he'd be so bad. He'd take you in such a bad way. He'd take you to such bad places."
On the NHS: "I don't even know where [it] started with respect to us taking over your healthcare system. I mean it's so ridiculous. I think Corbyn put that out there, but to even think, it was never even mentioned, I never even heard it until I went over to visit with the Queen."
On Boris Johnson's deal with the EU: "We want to do trade with the UK but to be honest with you, this deal, under certain aspects of the deal, you can't do it. You can't trade. We can't make a trade deal with the UK. I think we can do many times the numbers we're doing right now, and certainly much bigger numbers than you're doing under the EU. Boris wants to be very careful with it. Under certain ways we would be precluded, which would be ridiculous."

AR The Donald can't help Boris win this way.


Cosmic History

Natalie Wolchover

The Big Bang began with a burst of cosmic inflation. As space expanded exponentially, pairs of particles popped up in the inflaton field. The ripples stretched out and became frozen into the field as twin peaks in its density. As the process continued, the peaks formed a fractal pattern.
Space is filled with correlated sets of objects arising from quantum particles that pop into existence during inflation. All these configurations of objects in the sky today encode the passage of time.
The inflaton field must have interacted with the gravitational field. When a pair of particles in the inflaton field is dragged apart by cosmic expansion, one of the pair can morph into two gravitons, yielding a triangular pattern. If a pair of primordial particles each decayed into two other particles, we get a four-point correlation.
A bootstrap approach from the laws of physics leads to an equation for the patterns of correlations. The equation gives us a deeper view of particle physics, in which the outcomes of particle collisions follow from the volume of a geometric shape called the amplituhedron.
Nima Arkani-Hamed and Juan Maldacena rethought cosmic inflation in de Sitter space. Its symmetries constrain the cosmic correlations from inflation. There is no time variable in the bootstrap equation, yet it generates a universe evolving in time.

AR Omniscience offers a more abstract view of time.

Aurora Borealis

⦿ Maciej Winiarczyk
Aurora Borealis over Loch Watten, Caithness, Scotland, 2019-10-26



Steve Bray
"The only way we can unite
is for parliament to
revoke article 50."
Steve Bray

Landtagswahl Thüringen
Vorläufiges Endergebnis





US raiders
kill Daesh caliph
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

RN F-35
HMS Queen Elizabeth carries
a dozen £100 million F-35B
fighters that in "beast mode"
can carry a 10 ton warload

My years as a Conservative
party activist: a photo-
graphic chronicle



2019 Halloween

Popular Preferences

Daniel Ward

A capacity to make mistakes is central to a capacity for rationality.
Liberals say each of us is sovereign in our political, consumer, and religious preferences. General infallibility says we are not only sovereign but free from error in our preferences.
The idea that elections should decide what the government does is central to democracy. Elections do not end discussion of the policies voted upon. Liberalism does not justify blocking debate.
Cultural relativism says what is right for a society is whatever society regards as right. Then nobody is wrong about anything. A rebuttal starts by saying our own beliefs and attitudes change.
Revealed preference is basic to modern economics. Relativism says you cannot question the choices of others, but preference theory implies you cannot question even your own choices.
Economists equate preferences with what people spend their money on. Each individual has a set of preferences, a utility function to be maximized, and economists aggregate those functions to calculate the effect on prices and so on.
Utility maximization is a theory about rational agents. Economists say what is rational for a given person is whatever that person wants. They assume general infallibility.
Goals presuppose the possibility of error. Goals tend to form nested hierarchies. Each objective is contingent on it advancing the objective it answers to in the hierarchy above it.
A goal can render other preferences mistaken. This fact allows us to persuade one another. If you and I share some goal, you can tell me my preference is mistaken because it will not achieve that goal.
General infallibility creates the illusion that people are inaccessible to reason. Then no one can engage with other views or take them seriously. We must see through that illusion.
To err is human.

AR For example, many British voters in 2016 were wrong to imagine their lives would be improved by Brexit. Pushing on with Brexit disrespects the right of voters to change their minds for good reasons. Some voter may not understand those reasons, but too bad.

2019 October 30

UK General Election

The Times

Boris Johnson is a gambler. He is betting that voters will blame parliament for his failure to deliver Brexit and that public impatience will give him a majority to "get Brexit done" in the new year. The gamble might resolve nothing and return another hung parliament. The country has never been more divided. All Brexit options are still on the table.


UK Economic Prospects


The economic outlook is uncertain and depends on UK trading relationships after Brexit. Domestic economic weakness is amplified by slowing global demand.
We estimate that the economy would be 3.5% smaller in the long run with HM Government's proposed Brexit deal compared to continued EU membership. Assuming uncertainty persists but the terms of EU trade remain unchanged, we forecast economic growth of under 1.5% in 2019 and 2020. Favourable financing conditions and looser fiscal policy will support economic growth while uncertainty holds back investment and productivity growth.
We estimate the UK economy is 2.5% smaller now than it would otherwise have been as a result of the 2016 Brexit vote.


Germany and Japan

Martin Wolf

German hostility to the EZ is as irrational as UK hostility to the EU.
Germany and Japan have the world's third and fourth largest economies. Both have high median ages, low fertility rates, high incomes per head, and strong manufacturing. Both countries also have huge surpluses of private savings over investments.
Arithmetic requires that either fiscal deficits or capital flows abroad absorb these excess savings. In Japan, net capital outflows absorbed just a third of the private surplus, with the rest ending up in fiscal deficits. In Germany, capital outflows absorb all the private surplus, the exchange rate is competitive, and exports go largely to other EZ countries.
The EZ protected Germany from becoming another Japan.


Asteroid Hygiea

New Scientist

The asteroid Hygiea was discovered in 1849, but now we have good images of it. The Very Large Telescope in Chile reveals its shape as much more spherical than expected.
A dwarf planet must satisfy four criteria: it has to orbit the sun, it cannot be a moon, it must not have swept up all the smaller objects in its orbit, and it must have enough mass for gravity to pull it into a spherical shape. At about 430 km across, Hygiea would be the smallest dwarf planet we know of, less than half the diameter of the next one. According to simulations, it seems it formed in a collision that broke apart a larger body, allowing the fragments to coalesce into a ball, rather than by slowly changing shape over time.
The IAU has not certified Hygiea as a dwarf planet.

2019 October 29

General Election 12/12

BBC News

2024 UTC — MPs approve plan to hold general election on 12 December by 438 votes to 20. If all goes to plan, the next prime minister will be announced on Friday 13 December.

1829 UTC — The Conservative party will restore the whip to 10 of the 21 MPs from whom the whip was withdrawn last month.


Nach Thüringen

Die Welt

Nach der Landtagswahl in Thüringen kritisiert CDU-Politiker Friedrich Merz Kanzlerin Angela Merkel scharf. Bundestags-Vize Wolfgang Kubicki spricht Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer das Format als Parteichefin und Kanzlerkandidatin ab.


Alternative for Germany

Katrin Bennhold, Melissa Eddy

Since the AfD was founded in 2013 as a national-conservative, free-market protest party against the Greek bailout and the euro, it has shifted sharply to the right. Now it stands for nationalism and opposition to immigration.
The AfD includes not only disillusioned conservatives alienated by a perceived shift to the left of the CDU on issues like migration, same-sex marriage, and climate change, but also hardline nationalists, who use language laced with ethnic hatred.
The far right is more moderate in western Germany and less successful, trailing far behind the CDU and the resurgent Greens. In the former East, it has become a broad political force.
IDZ director Matthias Quent: "East Germany has become a refuge for the far right, a place where you can gather your strength, logistically and mentally .. The east is where Germany is still Germany and where men are still men."

2019 October 28

MPs Reject 12/12 Election

BBC News, 1945 UTC

HM Government moved a motion to hold a general election on December 12: 299 MPs voted for the motion, 70 against, but it failed because a 2/3 majority is required under the FTPA.



Donald Tusk, 0923 UTC

The EU27 has agreed that it will accept the UK's request for a #Brexit flextension until 31 January 2020. The decision is expected to be formalised through a written procedure.


End of the Union

Neal Ascherson

The Brexit ordeal has changed Britain:
 Conservative leaders blamed previous Labour governments for the financial deficit caused by
   the bank crash. No one had the energy to rebut that lie.
 People began to resent the huge gap in wealth, opportunity, infrastructure, and innovation
   between the London region and England outside London.
 The law is beginning to circumscribe parliamentary sovereignty. The time is fast approaching
   when parliament will be subject to constitutional law.
 In the UK of four nations, England no longer puts its own interests behind those of the others.
   Conservatives are ready to lose Scotland for Brexit.

AR Keep these changes and Remain.


Wahl in Thüringen

Der Spiegel

Die Suche nach einer Mehrheit im Thüringer Landtag ist nach dem Wahlsieg der Linken und dem Erfolg der AfD schwierig.
FDP-Landeschef und Spitzenkandidat Thomas Kemmerich freut der knappen Erfolg der FDP: "Wir haben erreicht, wieder dem Thüringer Landtag anzugehören."
Kemmerich sagte, er sei angetreten, damit die Regierung von Ministerpräsident Bodo Ramelow (Die Linke) keine Mehrheit mehr bekomme. Er fügte hinzu, dass es eine Koalition aus Linken, SPD, Grünen und FDP mit ihm sicher nicht geben werde. Man werde mit Ramelow nicht sprechen.
FDP-Bundesparteichef Christian Lindner nahm den Wahlabend mit Humor: "Jede Stimme zählt, niemals war dieser Satz weiser als heute."

AR Der Erfolg der AfD ist besorgniserregend.


Science and Human Identity

Nathaniel Comfort

In 1869, Thomas Henry Huxley advanced a scheme for eugenics. Convinced that the British Empire depended on the "energetic enterprising" English character, he mused about selecting for a can-do attitude among Britons.
Huxley had a sunny view of infinite human progress and triumph brought about by the inexorable march of science. As Francis Galton come to be known as the father of eugenics, psychologists made IQ tests a weapon of social control.
Eugenicists became obsessed with low intelligence, believing it to be the root of crime, poverty, promiscuity and disease. By the time Adolf Hitler redefined eugenics, countless people worldwide had already been sterilized or locked up.
More recently, molecular biology has relaxed the borders of the self. Genetic engineering and synthetic biology have redefined human nature. Biotechnology and information technology suggest the self is a construct.

AR My work has focused on redefining the self.

2019 October 27

Undermining UK Democracy

The Observer

Democracy cannot simply be enforced by the courts. It relies on the tacit agreement by those who take part that they will cherish and abide by its principles and act in good faith.
What is happening in Britain today shows how quickly the rot can set in. Our political honour code is breaking down, unleashing a race to the bottom. We do not yet know whether things will get worse before they get better.
The Leave campaigns were infected with populism from the start. Leavers denied there would be any trade-offs in leaving the EU and voters were told they could have it all: a more sovereign UK, a burgeoning economy, revitalised public services funded by the money saved on EU membership, and lower levels of immigration.
That campaign is responsible for the political mess we now find ourselves in. Leave politicians have shown for three years that what they promised voters was a unicorn. They have no deal that can win the support of parliament.
Boris Johnson is making a petulant joke of our democratic institutions. Every committed democrat should be appalled at his tactics. They risk undermining trust in democracy.


East German View

Egon Krenz

Today people say the East Germans tore down the Berlin wall on November 9, 1989. But that's not historically correct.
All those images you see of people hacking away at the wall with hammers and pickaxes were taken from the western side. No one in the east was trying to destroy the wall. They were just full of joy at being able to cross to the west.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev told me German reunification was not on the agenda. And I was naive enough to believe it. But his emissaries were already in West Germany trying to get a quid pro quo for approving reunification.
Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze told me they wanted to save the Soviet Union and had to throw out all the ballast. East Germany was a loyal Soviet ally, but we were now ballast. That was a knockout blow.
There was no reunification of two states. It was the Anschluss of one state to another state. The other state set the rules.

AR Such ingratitude for a €2 trillion bailout.


Nuclear Fusion

Philip Ball

The Joint European Torus (JET) at Culham, UK, run by the EU28 Eurofusion consortium, aims to make the nuclear fusion of hydrogen viable for energy generation by collecting the heat released to drive turbines for electricity.
Since 1983, JET has been aiming to extract more from the fusion process than is put in to keep it alive. Its reactor induces fusion in a super-hot plasma of hydrogen isotopes suspended by magnetic fields inside a tokamak.
JET is an experimental facility. It will be succeeded by the $20 billion ITER project, a collaboration between the EU and six other nations. ITER construction is now nearing completion in France. It aims to start in 2025 and then ramp up to produce 500 MW.
ITER is the big hope for the future of fusion. UK membership comes through its affiliation with Euratom, which is coupled to EU membership. Outside the EU, the UK would need to renegotiate a new position in ITER from scratch.
The UK Atomic Energy Authority has explored spherical tokamaks since the 1990s. The UK government has given £220 million to the UK-based Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) project to build a fusion reactor feeding 100 MW into the national grid by 2040.
Start-ups now trying to develop commercial fusion, such as Tokamak Energy, near Culham, hope to build a reactor small enough to fit on to the back of a truck to provide power locally to a factory or a town. But they are nowhere near ready for market.
Fusion will not solve the immediate climate crisis. But it will be a major component of global energy generation in the second half of this century.

AR The UK must continue to participate in ITER.

2019 October 26

JEDI War Cloud

The Guardian

The Pentagon has awarded the $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) war cloud contract to Microsoft, not front-runner Amazon. Donald Trump dislikes Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, which criticizes Trump.


Taxing War Years

Jörg Schindler

Former UK ambassador to the EU Sir Ivan Rogers: "I suspect that we will have to live with Boris Johnson for the next ten years."
In London, many think the defeats Johnson has suffered since July have only made him stronger. Every path leads to new elections. Johnson could triumph as the man who led his country to freedom, the man who took back control.
In an election on December 12, Johnson could win a majority. Polls put the Conservatives up to 15% ahead of Labour. The main hurdle is the Brexit party: Nigel Farage says Johnson's deal is "no Brexit" and will try to defeat Johnson.
Rogers: "We are in deep shit."

AR Victory on December 12 could let Johnson ram through a no-deal Brexit before the UK had to comply with new EU laws against tax dodging that take effect in 2020.

2019 October 25

Impeaching Trump

David A. Graham

The impeachment of President Donald Trump is now effectively inevitable. The remaining questions are how much broader the scandal gets, how much worse the details become, and how many Republicans get on board. Trump was seeking to aid his own personal reelection prospects using American statecraft as leverage.


Brexit Democracy

David Miliband

Brexiteers say Britain must press ahead with Brexit whatever the cost, because the danger to democracy will be so great if it does not. It cannot be more democratic to plough on with a version of Brexit that was never presented to the public in 2016 than to consult them on whether they want to go ahead with this plan. The risks to democratic health of no further consultation are greater than allowing the public to decide.

2019 October 24

Throw the Bum Out!

Roger Cohen

Britain is now close to a primal scream: Save us from Brexit! Deliver us from this nightmare!
The Conservatives are hellbent on likely breaking up the UK and certainly damaging its economy. The party equates this outcome with freedom and sees its leader Boris Johnson as a statesman. He has failed: The fantasy he sold in 2016 is not the reality of 2019.
No one can deliver Brexit because it makes no sense. Britain needs a general election, soon.


Celestial Strontium


When two neutron stars collide, they emit gravitational waves and light and forge heavy elements such as gold, platinum, and lead. These elements are scattered across the universe in a "kilonova" — like a supernova — after the initial fireball.
Researchers have now detected the heavy element strontium in the aftermath of a collision detected by LIGO in 2017. The discovery is more evidence that neutron star mergers create the heavy elements we find in our universe.

Identification of strontium in the merger of two neutron stars
Darach Watson et al.

Half of all of the elements in the universe that are heavier than iron were created by rapid neutron capture. The theory underlying this process requires an enormous neutron flux to make the bulk of the elements. Existing models and evidence point to neutron-star mergers as a probable site. The kilonova that emerges in the days after a merger is a likely place to detect the spectral signatures of newly created neutron-capture elements.
Kilonova AT2017gfo was found following the discovery of a neutron-star merger by gravitational-wave detectors. Its spectra were broadly consistent with an outflow of radioactive heavy elements. We have identified the neutron-capture element strontium in a reanalysis of these spectra. The detection establishes the origin of heavy elements in neutron-star mergers and shows that neutron stars are made of neutron-rich matter.


Hello Quantum World!


Scientists at Google say that they have achieved quantum supremacy. A team led by John Martinis says its quantum computer carried out a calculation beyond reach of classical machines.
Martinis likens the experiment to a "Hello World" program. The feat was first reported in September after an early version of the paper was leaked on the NASA website.
The Google team programmed its Sycamore computer to describe the likelihood of different outcomes from a quantum version of a random number generator. Sycamore calculated the probability distribution by sampling the circuit. It took 200 seconds to perform a task that would take a billion years on a desktop computer.
Other researchers are already trying to improve on the classical algorithms used to tackle the problem. IBM reports in a preprint that the problem can be solved in 60 hours using a different classical technique, but the paper has not been peer reviewed. If IBM is correct, Google has only demonstrated quantum advantage.
Scott Aaronson: "The scientific achievement is huge, assuming it stands, and I'm guessing it will."

AR I'm impressed.


⦿ David Lister
USAF F-22 Raptor

"The EU is not tired of the
British people. We are simply
tired of prime ministers who
don't understand that if they
don't get their deal through
parliament they should put
it back to the people."
Terry Reintke MEP
Bündnis 90/Die Grünen

Dorset for Europe

"We Brits owe all our European
friends a sincere apology .. For
Britain is now Hamlet, forever
agonizing over whether Brexit
is to be or not to be."
Timothy Garton Ash



2019 October 23

Climate Crisis

The Guardian

We face a climate emergency or a climate crisis, not merely climate change. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not merely a sceptic but a climate science denier.
Greenhouse gases cause global heating rather than global warming. The atmosphere is being heated by greenhouse gas emissions rather than carbon emissions.
We share the planet with wildlife rather than biodiversity. We need to protect fish populations rather than fish stocks.

AR Language matters.


Press On

The Times

Parliament may have scuppered Boris Johnson's hopes of leaving by October 31, but a deal now looks possible. The public will accept a delay of a few weeks, particularly if the alternative is to drag the process out for months for an election. The time for an election is once Brexit has been delivered, a moment now within reach.

AR The UK establishment is still too fatally intent on wrecking Europe.


A Bad Deal

The Guardian

Boris Johnson's version of Brexit cannot be allowed to stand. The government's desire to bludgeon the withdrawal bill through the House of Commons in three days was a brazen attempt to exploit a mood of national exhaustion with Brexit. The notion that matters of this gravity and magnitude should have been considered without proper scrutiny was an affront to parliamentary democracy.

AR Remainers should ask why the EU endorsed this bad deal so easily.


No Done Deal

Jonathan Freedland

Boris Johnson won his meaningful vote by 52% to 48%. But parliament did not approve his deal. Many MPs voted for a second reading not to endorse it but to amend it — with UK membership of a customs union or by conditioning it on a confirmatory referendum. Johnson will frame an early election as a battle to get Brexit done, but scrutiny of his deal will kill it.

AR We need a "democratic event" to ditch the "do or die" bravado.

2019 October 22, "Titanic Tuesday"

MPs Reject Halloween Brexit

BBC News, 1832 UTC

MPs first voted on the "second reading" (the first main hurdle a bill must pass on the way to becoming law) of the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill intended to give legal effect to the deal negotiated by Boris Johnson in Brussels last week. MPs passed it by 329 votes to 299. The next steps are to read the bill and table amendments.
MPs next voted on the (absurdly accelerated) timetable to rush through the passage of the bill into law in time for Halloween. MPs rejected the timetable by 322 votes to 308.
Johnson says the government will accelerate its preparations for a no-deal Brexit and "pause" the bill while he waits for a response on a delay from the EU.


Little England

The Times

Three quarters of Conservative Leavers in England would sacrifice the UK to leave the EU. A poll by Conservative donor Lord Ashcroft finds that 76% of English Conservatives who voted Leave in 2016 would continue with Brexit even if it led to Scotland gaining independence, and 74% would do so even if it led to Northern Ireland leaving the UK.


Populist Poland

Cas Mudde

Victory in the Polish parliamentary elections on October 13 went to the ruling populist Law and Justice party (PiS). PiS increased its vote share by 6% and regained its majority in the lower house of parliament (but lost its majority in the upper house).
The outcome discredits four myths about right-wing populist politics:
 Right-wing populism will fail in government. But populists say elitism is about morality. A prime minister from the people is not part of the elite.
 High turnout hurts right-wing populists. But not only the PiS but also the confederation of right-wing forces led by Janusz Korwin-Mikke did well.
 Rightwing populist parties moderate in government. But PiS campaigned on a centrist platform in 2015 and only then attacked liberal democracy and the independent judiciary and media.
 Voters are put off by radical politics. But as the success of PiS shows, they are not.

2019 October 21

No Vote Today

BBC News, 1437 UTC

House speaker John Bercow rules that the Brexit deal considered on Saturday will not be reconsidered today.


Achieving Brexit Closure

The New York Times

Super Saturday was to have been the decisive moment for Brexit. MPs were to vote for the surprise deal Boris Johnson brought back from Brussels. But they baulked.
MPs carried an amendment to postpone voting on the deal until the enabling legislation was passed. Johnson yanked his bill, evidently intent on reintroducing it soon.
Maybe Johnson will get his deal through parliament this week, but too much is at stake to rush it.


Debating Exit Fears

Financial Times

Those who expected an extraordinary sitting of the UK House of Commons to cut the Gordian knot of Brexit were not paying attention. MPs were in no mood to be bounced by prime minister Boris Johnson into a do-or-die choice on a Saturday afternoon.
Instead, they insisted on taking out an insurance policy against a disorderly Brexit. Johnson has become a victim of his attempts to bully his way to Brexit. MPs need to debate the contents of the political statement accompanying the withdrawal agreement.
Former chancellor Philip Hammond fears Johnson could run down the clock until the end of the transition in December 2020. Without a trade deal, Britain would face a very hard Brexit.


Get Healing

Clare Foges

Get Brexit Done suggests resolution. But even if this deal passes and gets us out of the EU, our Brexit travails are nowhere near done. Before us stretch months of tortuous negotiations on our future trade relationship with the EU.
On Saturday, the prime minister spoke of friendships strained and families divided by Brexit and suggested his deal could "heal our country" at last. We will never "heal our country" unless we hold a second referendum.


Machine Intelligence


Conference on Cognitive Computational Neuroscience (CCN)
Berlin, September 13−16, 2019

CCN sits at the intersection of cognitive science, computational neuroscience, and AI.
The CCN organizers have created an unorthodox conference. CCN co-founder Thomas Naselaris: "Everything that we tried, every change that we made, and everything that we're doing that's different from other conferences is focused on increasing the opportunities for people to interact."
Ample and diverse opportunities were provided for people to interact. At the individual level, an algorithmically optimized networking event was called mind matching. At the group level, there were cross-collaboration breakouts. At the community level, there was an event on the free-energy principle for unifying global brain theories.
Neuroscientists were anxious that machine learning and AI are moving far more rapidly than they can internalize. A good deal of useful material is being developed in machine learning that can reveal something important about how the brain and cognition work.

The free-energy principle: a unified brain theory?
Karl Friston, Nature Reviews Neuroscience 11, 127-138 (2010)

A proposed free-energy principle accounts for action, perception, and learning. This review looks at some key brain theories in the biological and physical sciences from the free-energy perspective. A key theme in each of these theories is optimization. Looking at what is optimized, the same quantity keeps emerging, namely value (expected reward, expected utility) or its complement, surprise (prediction error, expected cost).
Perhaps several global brain theories can be unified in a free-energy framework.


Fuel Cells 4 Electric Cars

Mail on Sunday

Trevor Jackson has signed a deal to start making his new fuel cell on a large scale in the UK. Austin Electric will build thousands of them into electric vehicles next year.
Jackson came up with a prototype a decade ago. He has now secured £108,000 for further research from the Advanced Propulsion Centre, a partner of the UK government department for business, innovation and skills.
Jackson began his career working for Rolls-Royce and the Royal Navy on nuclear reactors. Then, at BAE Systems, he worked on new ways to power vehicles.
He investigated fuel-cell technology using aluminum anodes in a KOH electrolyte. But KOH is toxic and caustic and works only with totally pure aluminum. After years of experimentation, Jackson developed a harmless electrolyte that works with lower-grade metal.
Jackson's Al-air cell produces nine times as many kWh of electricity per kg as Li-ion cells. A car with a reasonable battery of Al-air cells would have a range of several thousand km. Because Al-air fuel cells have a high energy density, they can also be used in buses and trucks. A battery of Al-air fuel cells for a high-end car would cost around £5,000.
Drivers with cars running on Li-ion cells have to recharge them, which takes a long time. But when an Al-air cell is spent, you simply swap it for a new one in a minute or two. The old one can be recycled cheaply. The running cost of an Al-air car would be a fraction of that for a fossil-fuel car.
Austin Electric will start by making Asian tuk-tuk taxis, electric bikes, and kits to convert fossil-fuel cars into hybrids. The conversion cost will be about £3,500, as of early 2020.
Jackson: "The technological and environmental advantages of aluminum-air are overwhelming, and Britain has a chance to become the world leader in it."

AR I say go for it. This is worth big investment.



11 days

Put deal to people

Rise up


2019 October 20

Kurdish Betrayal

Bernard-Henri Lévy

The Kurds have values and principles and an idea of Islam that is exemplary. In the West, everyone is searching for a democratic, secular Islam that believes in human rights, recognizes and practices the strict equality of men and women, protects minorities, and is a friend to Jews and Christians. Well, there it is.
Donald Trump's desertion of the Kurds is an act of infamy. This stain will long remain with Trump and those who helped him make his decision. It is a terrible thing to have the blood of your enemies on your hands, but it is so much worse to have them stained with the blood of your friends.
The only explanation is that he has an overall agreement with the Russians that cedes to them the management and policing of that entire part of the world. Allowing Vladimir Putin or Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to appear as peacemakers or the saviors of this or that people is strategically disastrous.


Johnson Sends 3 Letters 2 Brussels

Mail on Sunday

UK prime minister Boris Johnson sent three letters to Brussels last night in a bid to make sure the EU does not offer an extension. One letter asked for a delay in accordance with the Benn Act, but Johnson refused to sign it, and a second explained that he had not written it. In the third, signed letter to European Council president Donald Tusk, Johnson made it clear that he does not want the EU to grant the UK an extension.
Remainers responded with fury and said they could launch legal action to see if the prime minister had breached the Benn Act. Tusk responded by saying he would consult with other EU leaders about what to do next. Another Commons vote on Johnson's Brexit deal is expected tomorrow, but multiple amendments are expected too.
Minister in charge of no-deal Brexit preparations Michael Gove: "If we vote to leave, we get the legislation through, then there is no extension — October 31 is within sight."


Labour Could Back Deal

Keir Starmer

We need to ensure we have a referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU with the final deal or remain. Whatever the deal, it has got to go to a referendum up against remain. We will put down amendments to make sure the future destination is a close economic relationship with the EU.
Other amendments are important, too. There is a trapdoor to no deal at the end of 2020 that we need to deal with and close, and we can do that in the legislation. We also need an amendment saying whatever deal gets through should be subject to a referendum.


Inherited Learning

Viviane Callier

Some learned behaviors and acquired responses can be transmitted through several generations.
Possible mechanisms for epigenetic inheritance involve either chemical modifications of the proteins and DNA in the chromatin that makes up chromosomes, or small molecules of RNA that pass into germ cells, where they interact with the DNA and affect gene regulation.
C. elegans worms infected with viruses defend themselves by generating small RNAs that target and neutralize the viruses. Offspring of the roundworms also make these small protective RNAs. The inheritance of the small RNAs depends on enzymes that replicate them from a template.
C. elegans worms engineered to lack a gene required both for the synthesis of small RNAs and for chemotaxis cannot sniff out food if subjected to mild stresses. Restoring the missing gene only in the worms' nerve cells restored their ability to locate food.
C. elegans worms exposed to a pathogenic bacterium learn to avoid it, and they transmit this learned avoidance for about four generations. Worms exposed to the pathogen show changes in the expression of a gene in a neuron required for the avoidance behavior. There are also changes in the small RNAs in the germline.
Fruit flies can also inherit behaviors epigenetically. Adult Drosophila females raised with parasitic wasps learn to lay their eggs on food that contains ethanol, which protects the eggs and larvae from the wasps. This egg-laying preference persists for five generations. Small noncoding RNAs from the mother are not sufficient for transmitting the behavior between generations; an epigenetic modification on chromosome 3 is also essential.
Mice suffering early-life trauma release stress hormones that affect them throughout their lives. They also affect the developing germ cells, causing the same behaviors and metabolic alterations to be inherited in the offspring for up to five generations. Injecting the blood of traumatized mice into control mice can induce similar metabolic symptoms. Their offspring inherit the metabolic abnormalities too.
We don't know why epigenetic inheritance lasts for a few generations and then stops.

AR I find this fascinating.


⦿ Victoria Jones / PA

⦿ Tom Corban
Angelic Strumming

⦿ Isabel Infantes
Demonic Cunning


2019 October 19, "Super Saturday"

Together for the Final Say

People's Vote march, London, today

AR I was there, among I guess about a million people. As we gathered in Hyde Park before noon, with the dew fresh on the grass, many thousands of demonstrators, decked out in their festive marching outfits, formed into fluid and overlapping groups under flags and banners for the EU, the UK, political parties (Labour, Lib Dem, Greens, ..), towns and cities (Glasgow, Oxford, Exeter, Southampton, ..), counties (Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, Yorkshire, ..), nations (Scotland, Wales), and lots more, and then the drums pounded and the whistles blew and off we went, chanting slogans ("Bollocks to Brexit" — "People's Vote" — "Stop Brexit now") and singing snatches of popular songs (with various riffs on loving EU), shuffling along in a compressed and turbulent but friendly crowd, down Park Lane and along Piccadilly, down St James Street and along Pall Mall to Trafalgar Square, and down Whitehall to Parliament Square (I'd left by then). It was a strangely uplifting experience, like being in a medieval army, off to depose an evil monarch and launch a revolution.


MPs Defeat PM Again

The Guardian, 1350 UTC

MPs have inflicted a humiliating defeat on UK prime minister Boris Johnson by passing a backbench amendment withholding their support from his Brexit deal until it becomes law. They passed an amendment tabled by a cross-party group of MPs led by Sir Oliver Letwin by 322 votes to 306.
Johnson says he will press ahead with tabling Brexit legislation next week. MPs are likely to take the opportunity to table a string of amendments, including on trying to force a second referendum. Johnson must comply with the terms of the Benn act, which now obliges him to write to the EU to request a Brexit delay by 2200 UTC today.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer: "The deal before this house is a thoroughly bad deal for jobs, rights and living standards, a bad deal for the future direction of this country. It will put us on the path to an entirely different economy and society: one of deregulation and divergence."

AR The mega-crowd cheered the vote result as a mega-victory, but the war is not yet won. I was also there in the mega-crowd for the historic (and very similar) London march on Saturday, March 23, 2019. The experience was very similar. There I was with a family group, so I was distracted from the wider impact and neglected to record my response so fully.
The Brexit division in British public life is surely the deepest since the English Civil War (1642−1651). Only the veneer of modern civilization prevents it from breaking out into violence.
Coincidentally, on Friday night I (re)watched A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick's classic movie interpretation of the Anthony Burgess novel, and was reminded again of how thin that veneer is. Also, I am reading The Bombing War: Europe 1939−1945 by Richard Overy, a serious and methodical history of the most recent European descent into mass savagery.
All this is a sobering reminder of the real reason for our holding the EU in exceptionally high esteem — and for the UK to Remain a member.

Stop Brexit

Jacob Rees-Mogg

"Let us stagnate no more,
let us spring forth and
seize the victory
people voted for."
Jacob Rees-Mogg


The pound has just surged
through $1.29

Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster after
talks with Boris Johnson


Liberal Democrats table an
amendment to the Queen's
speech asking that any deal
brought back from Brussels
be put to a public vote.

LibDem leader Jo Swinson:
"The best deal we have
is as members of the
European Union."

Ted Turner
Ted Turner, 2011

Queen Elizabeth II



"We the people elect leaders
not to rule but to serve."
Dwight Eisenhower

Nie wieder


2019 October 18

Turkey's Victory

The New York Times

President Trump's withdrawal of US troops from Syria shows the danger he poses.
The troops were stationed in Syria between the Kurds who fought with them on the ground and the Turks, whose country is a NATO ally and repository of American tactical nuclear weapons. The betrayal left the Kurds divided among five Mideast countries that mistrust them. Trump abruptly sold them out to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu: "We got what we wanted."


New Deal Between EU27 and HMG

Michael Dougan

Boris Johnson's "new deal" between the EU27 and the UK government is mostly identical to that finalized by Theresa May. The only substantive change is to the Irish protocol.
NI will be a UK customs territory but subject to large swathes of EU legislation and ECJ caselaw. Customs and regulatory checks will take place between GB and NI.
For NI, any trade benefits of Brexit must be set against the cost of added customs complexity and bureaucracy. EU customs duties will apply unless and until proved otherwise, with a procedure for refunds by UK authorities.
The revised backstop will apply unless and until it is replaced by a new EU-UK trade deal. In reality, the backstop regime is permanent unless NI institutions later decide it should be terminated.
HMG says the customs and regulatory barriers will run only from GB into NI, whereas NI will enjoy free access to the GB market. This raises problems of equity for Scotland and Wales.
The revised Political Declaration remains much the same, but with a few tweaks intended to increase the future distance between the EU and the UK.
The deal might help with the immediate challenge of an orderly departure from the EU, but it remains a damaging and dangerous Brexit.


Hold Public Vote on Brexit Deal

Martin Wolf

Boris Johnson's new deal is better than the lunacy of no deal. He should now give the public the informed choice they lacked in 2016.
Leaving the EU will give the UK the illusion, not the reality, of greater control. The UK alone does not have the clout needed for transformative trade deals.
GDP is now 2−3% less than it could have been without the 2016 vote. With this deal, GDP per head could be 6−7% lower compared to staying in the EU. This is even worse than the 5.5% loss estimated under the May deal.
The economic loss far more than offsets any gain. The political costs are also dire. A breakup of the UK becomes much more likely.
This is a terrible deal, an act of mutilation. Ask the people whether it is what they want.

2019 October 17

Brexit Deal Done

Evening Standard, 0947 UTC

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker tweet: "Where there is a will, there is a deal — we have one! It's a fair and balanced agreement for the EU and the UK and it is testament to our commitment to find solutions."
UK prime minister Boris Johnson tweet: "We've got a great new deal that takes back control — now Parliament should get Brexit done on Saturday so we can move on to other priorities."


DUP Rejects Brexit Plan

Financial Times

Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party says it cannot support the revised Brexit deal as it stands. The EU and the UK have been seeking ways to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. The UK has conceded that NI will apply EU customs and tariffs rules overseen by the ECJ.


Johnson Deal Bad for UK

James Blitz

Boris Johnson's proposed Brexit deal is bad for the UK economy and will leave most British citizens poorer.
Johnson is seeking a goods-only deal with only minimal coverage of services. This is worse for the economy than Theresa May's deal, under which per capita income (PCI) would have been 1.7% lower than under continued EU membership. The PCI loss for the Johnson deal is 2.5% lower while that for a no-deal Brexit is 3.3%.
Under the Johnson proposal, NI will enjoy a special status as part of the UK but closely aligned to the EU single market and customs union. The SNP will say this undermines the idea of the UK and will demand to be treated like NI.
The deal Johnson proposes will make Britons poorer. Put it to the public in a referendum.

2019 October 16

"No Deal Tonight"

BBC News, 1848 UTC

A UK government source says there will be "no deal tonight" as officials work on details in Brussels. The UK and EU were hoping to sign off a revised Brexit deal before the EU council meeting tomorrow. Boris Johnson needs ERG and DUP MPs to back his ideas for Northern Ireland.


The Romance of Brexit Britain

Robert Harris

England has not been conquered for almost a thousand years. The English had no guillotine and no Hitler. For England, the past is full of nostalgia.
Europe was devastated during WW2. The European project arose from the ruins. Europeans decided that such a disaster would never be repeated. But that is obviously beyond the imagination of many Britons.
I have a lot of friends in the Conservatives. But the Brexit question is more fundamental. The preparations for Brexit reveal how little the government actually has under its control.
Boris Johnson is a bad writer and a poor speaker. He's not as smart as many people in the UK think. He is a charming bluffer.


The Fantasy of Wartime Britain

John Harris

Brexiteers affect to be consumed by the distant stuff of Dunkirk, the Blitz, and VE day.
Boris Johnson rants about parliament's "surrender bill" and No 10 sources warn of MPs colluding with foreign powers. Nigel Farage rallies begin with the sound of air-raid sirens. Friends of the prime minister regularly bring up his fixation with Winston Churchill.
Johnson and Farage were born in 1964. The end of WW2 was decades away, and the remaining rump of empire was the butt of jokes. But their audience loves the idea that Britannia could once again rule the waves and stick it to the continentals.
The comical fantasy of a belligerent UK blazing its own trail is absurd.


The Fallacy of Government Security

Edward Snowden

The US government is seeking to undermine the security of the world's information.
Facebook is being asked to create a backdoor, or fatal flaw, into its encrypted messaging apps, which would allow anyone with the key to that backdoor unlimited access to private communications. So far, Facebook has resisted this.
If internet traffic is unencrypted, any government, company, or criminal that happens to notice it can steal a copy of it, secretly recording your information for ever. Encrypted traffic is safe: only those who have a special decryption key can unlock it.
E2EE ensures the keys that unlock any given message are only ever stored on the specific devices at the end points of a communication. E2EE keys can no longer be stolen in the event of corporate data breaches. E2EE protects users.
The US government claims that without total access to the complete history of every person's activity on Facebook, it would be unable to investigate terrorists, drug dealers, money launderers, and child abusers.
E2EE helps us remain not only safe, but free.

2019 October 15

Scottish Independence

BBC News, 1630 UTC

Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon enjoyed multiple standing ovations when she told the SNP conference that a second referendum on Scottish independence must happen next year. She confirmed that she will ask the UK government for formal consent by the end of this year and said Westminster had no right to block the request. She stressed the referendum had to be recognised internationally, because her aim was to deliver independence.


Ted Turner, Captain Planet


Ted Turner founded CNN, the world's first 24-hour news network, in 1980. He had a master plan: to make the world a better place.
A philanthropist of extraordinary generosity, he once donated $1 billion to the UN. He founded the Nuclear Threat Initiative, set up the UN Foundation to support humanitarian work around the world, and signed The Giving Pledge to commit more than half his wealth to good deeds.
The cause closest to his heart is protecting the Earth: "It's a pretty wonderful world that we live in down here, and it's worth saving .. You have to save the species that live on the planet to save the planet."
Turner now owns 16 ranches in six western US states and three more in Argentina. They cover a total of more than 3000 square miles. Each ranch is a refuge for native species.
Captain Planet is a person with a mission to save the world. Ted Turner is Captain Planet.


Jesus in Asia

Ian Johnson

Asian intellectuals grappled with Jesus as a person with a place in Asian religions and compared him with other religious figures, such as Zoroaster, Buddha, and Krishna.
Ponnambalam Ramanathan (1851−1930) was less interested in the man Jesus than in his spirit. He lauded his childlike ability to reveal God. On a tour of the United States, he told audiences Christian ideas are not originally Christian but old Hindu doctrine.
C.T. Alahasundram (1873−1941) wrote a book about Jesus that omitted events he thought were useless or unconvincing to a person from India. He thought Jesus was mainly significant for his ethical views, which he equated with those of Buddha.
Manilal Parekh (1885−1967) saw Jesus as a savior and spiritual teacher in the Jain sense. Parekh tried to cleanse Christianity of European culture and imperialism. He saw his task as making Jesus suitable and intelligible to Indian spirituality.
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1885−1975) was perturbed by how Hinduism was denigrated by missionaries. He wrote of Jesus as being heavily influenced by Buddhist ideas: "Buddha and Jesus are men of the same brotherhood."
Christianity in China has roots in the work of preachers before 1949. It has spread among ethnic Chinese in the heartland and among professionals. It is the first foreign religion to gain a central place in China since Buddhism.

Jesus in Asia by R.S. Sugirtharajah

2019 October 14

The Queen's Speech

Queen Elizabeth II

My government's priority has always been to secure the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union on 31 October. My government intends to work towards a new partnership with the European Union, based on free trade and friendly cooperation [and] seizing the opportunities that arise from leaving the European Union .. [etc. etc.]

AR Given the Brexit crisis and the fact that this is an embattled minority government, the speech was no more than party political propaganda on behalf of Boris Johnson — who wrote it for her — in preparation for the next general election.


Brexit Update

The Times

EU negotiators want more concessions from Boris Johnson before agreeing a Brexit deal this week. After a weekend of intensive negotiations in Brussels, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told EU ambassadors that UK proposals were not yet acceptable. He is said to have told UK chief negotiator David Frost that Johnson must give ground on a customs agreement for Northern Ireland.
The EU is prepared to back Johnson's plan in principle even if a legal text cannot be finalized in time for the summit so long as the UK gives ground. Johnson would present a political deal for a vote in the Commons on Saturday. A final legal agreement would be ratified by an implementation bill passed by both houses of parliament.

Labour Split
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is being isolated as senior party figures call for Labour to back a second referendum on Brexit. Allies of shadow chancellor John McDonnell want the party to back Remain.
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey: "I think the only option that we've got now is to let the people decide."


Law and Justice in Poland

The Guardian

Poland's ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party has won Sunday's parliamentary election. According to official results from 99.5% of constituencies, PiS took 43.8% of the vote, ahead of the Civic Coalition on 27.2% and the Left alliance on 12.5%.
Jarosław Kaczyński: "We have reason to be happy."

Law and Justice
The right-wing PiS party is expected to win Sunday's election in Poland. Jarosław Kaczyński founded the party with his twin brother Lech. He remains the most powerful man in Poland.
Following the PiS election victory in 2015, Kaczyński weakened Poland's constitutional tribunal and made the judiciary answerable to his parliamentary majority. Brussels responded by launching legal proceedings against Warsaw.
Kaczyński has deepened support among the party's traditional, nationalist electorate. He polarized the confrontation between Catholic Poles with "normal families" against "Poles of a worse category," as he called them.
About two years ago, Kaczyński replaced prime minister Beata Szydlo with Mateusz Morawiecki. The party's tone became more moderate and PiS became more electable.
Adam Laszyn owns the company Alert Media Communications: "PiS has the most modern and sophisticated political communication strategy of any party in Europe."

AR Look on the bright side: Stability is its own reward.

2019 October 13

Making America Worse

The New York Times

The Trump administration is considering a rollback of rules written by the Obama administration to prevent big corporations from escaping taxation by shifting profits out of the United States.
The Trump administration has worked hard to reduce federal protections for consumers, workers and the environment, making the United States a dirtier and more dangerous place to live.
The Trump administration also continues to flout existing law. Its regulatory policy can be summarized as marching to the orders of the businesses it regulates. It has pushed so hard to reduce regulation that even companies have sometimes expressed reservations.
If Trump stands in 2020, Americans can improve their lives by voting for someone else.


Impeach Trump

Robert Reich

Donald Trump is the most xenophobic and isolationist US president in modern history.
Trump sides with Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Trump Towers Istanbul is the Trump Organization's first and only office and residential building in Europe.
Trump has separated families at the US-Mexico border, locked migrant children in cages, and tried to ban Muslims from entering America.
Trump has repeatedly compromised American democracy for personal gain. He asked the president of Ukraine to do him a personal favor by digging up dirt on Joe Biden.
Trump justifies his trade war with China as protecting America from Chinese predation. But he asked China to start an investigation of Biden.
Trump is pushing the prime minister of Australia, among others, to gather information to discredit Robert Mueller, who found that Russia acted to help Trump get elected.
Trump's international thug is Rudy Giuliani. Two Giuliani associates have been arrested in connection with a criminal scheme to funnel foreign money into American politics.
Trump's own children are profiting from foreign deals. Eric and Don Jr have projects in the works in Ireland, India, Indonesia, Uruguay, Turkey, and the Philippines.
Trump is pocketing money from foreign governments staying at his hotels. They spent more than a million dollars at Trump businesses in 2018.
All this is impeachable.


Big Money Brexit

Barry McGuinness

Brexit is being driven by rich investors who like to operate above the law.
Corporate tax avoidance is a global problem, but by far its biggest enabler is the UK. In 2016, the EU published a directive to tackle corporate tax avoidance. From January 2020, the new law will require anyone with offshore accounts to disclose them for scrutiny.
Continuing membership of the EU requires the UK to enforce the directive. This bothers companies that dodge taxes, as well as any rich people who hoard and launder money with British offshore banks. A no-deal Brexit lets them do business as usual.
The Conservative party is traditionally the party of business. But in the summer of 2019, it was hijacked by a small group of Brexiteers. The vacuum of regulations created by Brexit offers them an opportunity to reshape the UK economy.
London will then be deregulated. Fund managers will place bets on any assets that can rise or fall in value. The world is a big casino to them, and any disaster or crisis is a chance for a bet.
After Brexit, the UK is set to become a tax haven for Big Money.


Global English

The Nobel Prize

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2018 [sic] is awarded to the Polish author Olga Tokarczuk for a narrative imagination that represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.
Tokarczuk: "Sometimes I wonder how my life would have worked out if my books had been translated into English sooner, because English is the language that's spoken worldwide, and when a book appears in English it is made universal, it becomes a global publication."

AR The English language, not English politics, is the true global asset.

2019 October 12

Trade War Threatens Global Economy

Kevin Rudd, Helen Clark, Carl Bildt

President Trump has announced a preliminary trade détente with China.
As representatives of a group of former prime ministers and presidents from governments that have enjoyed close relations with both the United States and China, we urge both sides to reach a substantive trade agreement by year's end.
America has profited immensely from access to global markets since its birth. China, since opening up 40 years ago, has lifted millions of its people out of poverty largely through global trade. Much of the prosperity enjoyed by people across the world is anchored in our ability to sell goods and services freely across national boundaries.
We understand the challenges that arise from Chinese policies on intellectual property, its restrictions on market access, and its subsidies for exporting companies. We believe these practices need to change. But we do not see the tariff war started by the United States as an effective way to resolve the dispute.
We urge both countries to try to reach agreement this year.


Category Theory

Kevin Hartnett

Jacob Lurie has constructed a new way to understand some deep math by moving beyond the equal sign. Mathematicians are repackaging his work to build a foundation for mathematics founded not on equality, but on equivalence.
For over a hundred years, sets have been the foundation of mathematics. Set theory specifies how to construct and manipulate sets in terms of equality. But to say that two sets are equal is to overlook all the ways they can be equal. Equality is all or nothing. Equivalence comes in different forms.
In 1945, Samuel Eilenberg and Saunders Mac Lane introduced categories. A category is a set with extra metadata describing all the ways two objects are related to one another, including a description of all the ways two objects are equivalent.
Categories can keep track of strong forms of equivalence. When you do math in terms of weaker notions of equivalence, the amount of information about how two objects are related increased dramatically. Ultimately, you build an infinite tower of equivalences between equivalences. The tower gives you a full perspective on your objects, but it was hard to build a theory of it.
Jacob Lurie created the machinery needed to replace set theory with a new mathematical foundation based on infinity categories. Read his book Higher Topos Theory.

AR I worked hard on set theory in the 1970s. But I neglected categories. Now I feel too old to tackle higher topos theory.

Get ready for IT

This is not a drill



2019 October 11

EU27 Green Light

The Guardian, 1132 UTC

EU27 gives green light for EU-UK Brexit negotiations to enter the Tunnel.


Brexit Chance

Donald Tusk, 0917 UTC

I have received promising signals from the Taoiseach that a deal is still possible. Technical talks are taking place in Brussels as we speak. Of course, there is no guarantee of success and the time is practically up. But even the slightest chance must be used.

AR Sterling jumps above $1.25 on the news.


Buccaneering Britain

Robert Saunders

The Brexit wildfire has been fed by a narrative of loss, betrayal, and dispossession.
Leavers use the past to imagine the future. They market their fables with the word "we" — "We won the war" — "We survived the Blitz" — "We abolished slavery" — and say that after Brexit we can once again take to the high seas and engage with the wide world beyond Europe.
Brexiteers say Global Britain can enjoy the same power today as at its colonial zenith. They tell of a buccaneering people in a history that recasts a coercive military empire as a champion of free trade, with entrepreneurialism as the thread from then to now.
Such rhetoric erases empire from the record to tell a story of British greatness anchored in timeless national characteristics that require only liberation from Brussels to bloom anew.
A vision of Britain both as a global titan and as a small island punching above its weight defies the real history. It detaches memories of British greatness from the material conditions that made it possible. It promotes the power of positive thinking and blames failure on the fainthearts.
Boris Johnson is an enthusiast for empire. He thinks the power of the British empire rested less on material underpinnings than on a cocktail of pluck, courage, and determination.
Johnson dotes on WW2. In his book The Churchill Factor, he roots Allied victory in the mobilization of national belief by a heroic leader. He sees in Winston Churchill a "resounding human rebuttal" to an emphasis on impersonal factors.
The rhetoric of Global Britain has set Britain on a dangerous course.


Primordial Black Holes

New Scientist

The first black holes grew amid the radiation that flooded out of the big bang.
Hawking radiation could reveal primordial black holes. Astrophysical black holes form from the collapse of dense stars of 1.4 solar masses (⦿) or more. Primordial black holes form directly from radiation and can be smaller. We could detect their evaporation by Hawking radiation.
We think invisible dark matter enables galaxies to spin fast without flying apart. Primordial black holes could emit dark matter particles as Hawking radiation. Bigger black holes are cooler and emit fewer and lighter particles. As they shrink, they heat up, emitting more massive particles.
Primordial black holes could help us explain the rate of cosmic expansion, H. We measure one value of H by recording the red shift of nearby objects and another by extrapolating from CMB data. Primordial black holes could emit dark radiation that explains the discrepancy.
Most large galaxies have supermassive black holes at their hearts with up to tens of billions of solar masses. These enormous objects must be primordial. Black holes of about 30 ⦿ are also expected have formed in the early universe.
Since 2015, LIGO has found about 30 black holes that could be primordial.

2019 World Mental Health Day

Turks Kill Kurds


Turkey is invading Syria and attacking Kurds, who were key US allies in fighting ISIS. President Trump says the Kurds were not US allies in WW2.

AR With that logic, Trump would let Russians invade Germany.


Brexit Folly

David Edgerton

The Conservative party is set on a course most capitalist states and enterprises regard as foolish.
The party now represent the interests of the small group of capitalists who fund it. The capitalists who support Brexit tend to be very loosely tied to the UK economy.
Today there is no such thing as British national capitalism. London is a hub for world capitalism. The interests of foreign capital are not expressed through a national political party.
Brexit is the political project of the hard right within the Conservative party. It reveals the weakness of the UK. The modern British state has distanced itself from the productive economy and has few experts on the complexities of modern capitalism.
The UK can no longer undertake the radical planning and intervention that might make Brexit work. That would require state experts closely aligned with business. Brexiteers hope the EU will cave and carry on trading with the UK as if nothing had changed.
Brexit shows how capitalism now relates to politics. It shows the UK place in the world.


UK Science

Anjana Ahuja

In September, Boris Johnson announced a £220 million investment in nuclear fusion. But Brexit is already damaging British science.
Sheffield physicist Richard Jones was summoned to Downing Street: "This meeting wasn't about the whole funding system but just one aspect: how to support world-changing innovations driven by brilliant individuals .. But my view is that the European Research Council provides a very good mechanism for that."
The ERC has a €13 billion budget for 2014−2020 to provide for "investigator-driven frontier research" into new and unpredictable fields. UK involvement with the ERC and with organizations such as Euratom is due to end when the UK leaves the EU.
Jones: "You need continent-scale competition to drive things forward. A small, inward-looking country can lose its competitive edge."


Technological Innovation

João Medeiros

Mariana Mazzucato researched the provenance of technologies in the Apple iPhone.
The HTTP was developed and implemented at CERN, in Geneva. The internet began as Arpanet, funded by the US DoD. The DoD also funded the development of GPS, the hard disk drive, microprocessors, memory chips, and LCD display. Siri started as a project commissioned by DARPA. The touchscreen arose from research funded by the NSF and the CIA.
Mazzucato: "Steve Jobs has rightly been called a genius for the visionary products he conceived and marketed, [but] this story creates a myth about the origin of Apple's success. Without the massive amount of public investment behind the computer and internet revolutions, such attributes might have led only to the invention of a new toy."
Between 1960 and 1972, the US government spent $26 billion on the Apollo program. Many projects contributed, not only in aeronautics but in nutrition, textiles, electronics, and medicine, resulting in spinoff products from freeze-dried food to digital fly-by-wire flight control systems. Apollo also boosted work on integrated circuits.
The state assumed the risks of technological enterprises behind the development of aviation, nuclear energy, computers, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and the internet. DARPA pumped billions of dollars into developments that led to Microsoft Windows, videoconferencing, Google Maps, Linux, and the cloud.
In 2017, the European Commission for Research, Science, and Innovation hired Mazzucato as special adviser. She suggested reframing the European research and innovation program as Horizon Europe, a €100 billion mission-oriented initiative due to start in 2020.
In May 2019, the European Parliament approved her proposal. Five mission areas were chosen: adaptation to climate change; cancer; healthy oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters; climate-neutral and smart cities; and soil health and food. The European Commission will now appoint a mission board for each area.


Chemistry Nobel for Lithium-Ion Cells


John Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham, and Akira Yoshino share the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing lithium-ion battery cells.
Lithium is the lightest metal in the periodic table and readily forms ions by giving up electrons. But to use lithium in a power cell, you need to tame its reactivity.
Whittingham developed a new cathode material, titanium disulphide, that allowed lithium ions to move freely within it. Goodenough replaced the titanium disulphide cathode with one made of cobalt oxide to increase the voltage and energy capacity. Yoshino showed how to replace the pure lithium metal anode with a safer one made of a carbon matrix.
Lithium cells now power portable electronics worldwide.

AR Goodenough and Whittingham formerly worked at Oxford.

World wars

Montage by AR
Correcting a calumny

"The modern structure of the [British] state is a higher form of democracy in which, by virtue of the people's mandate,
the government is exercised authoritatively while there is no possibility for parliamentary interference to obliterate
and render ineffective the execution of the nation's will."
Joseph Goebbels [ed AR]

22 days




2019 Yom Kippur

White House Will Not Cooperate

The New York Times

The White House says it will not cooperate with what it calls an illegitimate effort "to overturn the results of the 2016 election" that violates precedent and denies due process rights.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "The White House should be warned that continued efforts to hide the truth of the president's abuse of power from the American people will be regarded as further evidence of obstruction. Mr President, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable."


Brexiteer Faith in America Misplaced

Daniel Finkelstein

Brexiteers assume that Britain can take its place as a leading partner in the Anglosphere and partner the United States in a truly special relationship.
Ever since WW2, European integration was as much the project of the United States as it was of France or Germany. Dean Acheson saw the reconstruction of Europe as central to US interests. The Marshall Plan, NATO, and European integration formed a single package.
Donald Trump heads a movement that has always been sympathetic to Britain. It approves of Brexit and reveres Margaret Thatcher as Ronald Reagan's comrade in arms.
Trump has an election to fight next year. A Democratic president will revert to Acheson's policy. Any UK-US trade deal would require a two-thirds majority in the Senate for ratification. Democratic support would be hindered by a breach with Ireland.
The present US administration is not internationalist. Trump wants to Make America Great Again, not preserve the great in Great Britain.


Brexit Deal Doomed, Deadline Looms

The Guardian

A blame game erupted in Westminster when an anonymous source briefed selected journalists about a telephone call between Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel.
European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker: "I do not accept this blame game of pinning the eventual failure of the negotiations on the EU. If that's the case, the explanation is actually in the British camp."
Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar: "There are some fundamental objectives that haven't changed for the past three years and we need them guaranteed."
European Parliament president David Sassoli: "Up to the very last minute, it will be possible for the European Union and parliament to try and find a deal."


Brexit Killing Science

The Guardian

The UK government still aims to join the new €100 billion EU research program Horizon Europe.
Sir Paul Nurse: "Colleagues abroad think the UK has lost its senses. The prime minister behaves like a clown and the world has noted that. Our reputation has plummeted."
Sir Andre Geim: "In science, a no-deal Brexit would be like a severe drought for an orchard. You can't expect to have a harvest after watering it again next year. All the trees are already dead."
Professor Gero Miesenböck: "Basic research is the foundation of everything. And the UK is extremely good at it, which is why I am here. But I worry that no one is paying attention to the damage about to be done."
Sir Alan Fersht: "The EU has been the best thing for British science for decades. The European Research Council has provided support that didn't exist, like starter grants for young scientists and advanced grants for senior scientists to do novel work. It has been transformative."


Nobel Prize in Physics

New Scientist

The 2019 Nobel prize in physics goes to James Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz for their contributions to our understanding of the evolution of the universe and Earth's place in it.
Peebles made theoretical predictions about the shape of the universe and the matter and energy in it. He looked at the role of the CMB in how matter clumped to form galaxies and galaxy clusters.
Mayor and Queloz discovered the exoplanet 51 Pegasi b. It was the first time a planet was found to orbit a star similar to our Sun.


Supercomputer Brain Simulation

New Scientist

The SpiNNaker supercomputer at the University of Manchester, UK, has a total of 1 million processing cores and can simulate the behavior of 77 000 neurons, equivalent to a 1 mm cylinder in sensory cortex, as fast as the brain for up to 12 hours.
Markus Diesmann designed the model it uses. His group plans to port their model of visual cortex to SpiNNaker.

Real-Time Cortical Simulation on Neuromorphic Hardware
Oliver Rhodes et al.

2019 October 8

Trump Obstructs "Kangaroo Court"

The New York Times, 1627 UTC

The Trump administration directed US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland not to appear for a scheduled interview in the impeachment inquiry.
Trump tweet: "I would love to send [Sondland] to testify, but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court."

AR Republicans should revolt against their administration.


Brexit Deal "Essentially Impossible"

BBC News, 1557 UTC

A Downing Street source has said a Brexit deal is "essentially impossible" after a call between Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel. The source said she implied a deal was "overwhelmingly unlikely" — but EU officials doubt Merkel would have used such language.
European Council president Donald Tusk: "What's at stake is not winning some stupid blame game. At stake is the future of Europe and the UK as well as the security and interests of our people."

AR Conservatives should revolt against their government.


Trump Betrays Kurds

The New York Times

President Trump says he will not stand in the way of a Turkish invasion to expel Kurdish forces from the border region of northern Syria.

AR Oust him now.


EU Rejects Brexit Plan

Daniel Boffey

Leaked documents detail EU rejection of Boris Johnson's Brexit proposals for the Irish border:
 A Stormont veto would let the DUP block plans for the regulatory zone.
 A customs border would risk major disruption of the all-Ireland economy.
 A fallback of no controls or checks leaves the EU internal market wide open.
 A proposal to prevent border checks and infrastructure has no plan B.
 A proposal for an open border invites other countries to seek open borders.
 A customs exemption for smaller businesses would invite smuggling.
 There is no provision for checking payment of VAT.
 NI businesses would have competitive advantage trading in the single market.
 Access to EU databases to police the border would remain after a DUP veto.
EU leaders say the legal text does not form the basis for serious negotiation.

UK Cost Warning
HM Revenue & Customs says businesses would be hit with an annual £15 billion bill to fill in customs forms for trade between the UK and the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Companies in the UK and EU would face "a significant new and ongoing administrative burden" in a disorderly departure.

UK Debt Warning
The Institute for Fiscal Studies says the scale of the government response required to firefight a flatlining economy in the event of a disorderly departure from the EU would raise the UK national debt to almost 90% of GDP, its highest level for fifty years.

AR Time for Boris to see sense in a Damascene conversion.


Another Trillion Trees

Christine Swanson

The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) is a NASA mission designed to provide the first 3D look at the world's forests. The information GEDI gathers will help us understand climate change.
CO2 emissions from human activity put about 10 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere each year. Oceans absorb about a quarter of it, and forests account for much for the rest. Altogether, biomass sequesters an estimated 550 gigatons of carbon, most of it in trees.
A 2015 estimate put the total number of trees on Earth at about 3 trillion. Our estimates of how much carbon is contained in the Amazon rainforest range from 60 to 90 gigatons.
GEDI uses lidar, where laser pulses are timed bouncing back from solid objects to calculate distance. Laser beams penetrating a forest at different depths from the canopy down to the ground help build a 3D map of the forest.
GEDI lidar uses near-infrared light, which is reflected off leaves but cannot penetrate clouds. It will sample only a fraction of Earth's surface and will miss most of the boreal forest.
Radar systems emit microwaves, which penetrate cloud and scatter from solid objects. The optimal wavelength is 70 cm. The European Space Agency has selected it for use in the Biomass satellite, set to launch in 2022.
Worldwide, some 15 billion trees are felled each year. We could plant enough additional trees to cut CO2 levels by a quarter, making this by far the best climate change solution available.

AR I vote for more trees.

Extinction Rebellion

⦿ Christophe Gateau / DPA
Extinction Rebellion, Berlin

Eckhardt Tolle


German flag

Tag der Deutschen Einheit
29 Jahre später

Wolfgang Thierse spricht
über die Langsamkeit des

Rotary selfie


2019 October 7

Trump Showdown


A federal US judge dismissed Donald Trump's effort to prevent his tax returns from being turned over to a New York grand jury. The ruling raises the likelihood that the president's tax returns will be provided in response to the subpoena. Any material obtained through a grand jury subpoena is covered by grand jury secrecy rules.


Brexit Shootout

Robert Shrimsley

Brexit is down to a final shootout. EU rejection of Boris Johnson's plan will leave the prime minister forced to delay Brexit and face an election. Defeat for Johnson means a second referendum on a new deal, but victory means a hardline government that can exit without a deal. The result will be winner take all.


The EU Is Changing

The Observer

Brexiteers imagine the EU is as obsessed with obstructing Brexit. In fact, the priority in Brussels is to facilitate an orderly departure.
EU eyes are mostly elsewhere. Confirmation hearings have begun for the new European Commission president. The European Parliament must give its consent by the end of October. Then come budget negotiations. The new European Council president takes over in December. Then come EU reforms.
The EU is still grappling with problems, but it continues to defy those who wish it harm. The EU has formidable resilience.


The EU Cannot Afford Brexit Delay

Christiane Hoffmann

British prime minister Boris Johnson has plunged the UK into crisis. No one wants to let him declare victory in leading the UK out of the EU.
Johnson has submitted a proposal to resolve the Irish border issue. It is a poor solution, but a further delay would not help resolve the issue. Some hope a postponement can give time for a second Brexit referendum. Others hope new elections will give Johnson a mandate for a no-deal Brexit.
Brexit has become inevitable. Separating on good terms is wise. Europe can no longer afford the Brexit insanity.

2019 October 6

Conscious Manifestation

Eckhart Tolle

Your life purpose unfolds through the activities that you engage in on the dimension of doing. The dimension of being is equally important. In the dance between being and doing, the ultimate source of satisfaction in life is to recognize yourself as consciousness.
A key to conscious manifestation is to be anchored in presence — the feeling of "I am" — and our only true source of fulfillment. When we are connected with presence, we create from a place of joy, appreciation, and sufficiency. We become vehicles of creative intelligence.
There is a relationship between your predominant way of thinking and what you experience as your reality. Manifestation is about influencing your external circumstances by changing your thinking and your state of consciousness.
A field of intelligence sources all creation on the level of form. Aligning consciously with this universal intelligence starts with the direct realization that there is no you apart from the universe. In your most essential nature, you are consciousness.
We cannot manifest a more conscious world without a shift in consciousness that begins on the individual level. The New Earth begins with your awakened consciousness.

2019 October 5

Charity Chinese Celebration

Rotary Club of Poole, Dorset Chinese Association

AR A superbly choreographed celebration of traditional Chinese culture combined with excellent Chinese cuisine combined to make for an enjoyable evening in the company of fellow Rotarians and friends. The dancing girls were amazing.


Quantum Supremacy

John Preskill

In 2012, I proposed the term "quantum supremacy" to describe the point where quantum computers can do things classical computers can't.
Google used a device with 53 qubits and report that it took just minutes to perform quantum computations that would take today's most powerful supercomputers thousands of years. This is a remarkable achievement.
The problem their machine solved was carefully chosen. By checking that the output agrees with the output of a classical supercomputer (in cases where it doesn't take thousands of years), the team verified that they understand their device and that it performs as it should.
In the era now dawning, we can do noisy intermediate-scale quantum (NISQ) computations. The Google team has apparently demonstrated that we can now build a quantum machine large enough and accurate enough to do nisq-y work.
The Google achievement bolsters our confidence that quantum computing is not ridiculously hard but merely really, really hard.

2019 October 4


The New York Times

President Trump outside the White House declared to the assembled press: "China should start an investigation into the Bidens."
A US president urging a foreign government to investigate his political rival would seem to be flagrantly violating the law. But this president is a master at defining deviancy down. His defenders increasingly say what he did in pressuring the Ukrainian president was no big deal.
Trump seems to be assuming that the more shameless his assault on US norms and laws, the more he can get away with.



Todd Phillips, Joaquin Phoenix, et al.

AR This is the bleakest, darkest movie I've seen for a long, long time. If the mood it conveys is an accurate reflection of the lived experience of the white underclass in Trump America, that society is doomed to descend into a Mad Max abyss in our lifetime.
The Joaquin Phoenix incarnation of the Joker is an anti-hero of Dostoyevskyan madness and nihilistic malice, projected into an American dystopia of such violence and squalor that no political movement short of Extinction Rebellion could begin to redeem it. The logical linkage of gun culture and bloodbath slaughter is hideously apparent, the broken societal links that doom the poor to deepening poverty dismally obvious.
There is no hope for an America remotely resembling this ominously plausible portrait. Only a coherently imagined revolution can save it, and no revolutionary model so far proposed is up to the magnitude of the challenge. My first response (I first saw the movie this afternoon) is to invest my hopes in the cleansing idealism of the China Dream.

NYT interview with Joaquin Phoenix



The Guardian

The UK government has promised a court that Boris Johnson will send a letter to the EU seeking an extension to article 50 as required by the Benn act. The pledge was given in legal papers submitted to the court of session in Edinburgh after anti-Brexit campaigners began a legal action to force Johnson to uphold the act's requirements.

AR Pray let this doom the nightmare.

2019 October 3



President Donald Trump: "This is the greatest hoax. This is just a continuation of what's been playing out since my election. This is a fraudulent crime on the American people."
Trump made no effort to veil his unbridled disgust at the crisis engulfing his presidency during public appearances at the White House. Administration aides fear he has failed to grasp the enormity of what he is facing him. He is lashing out, tweeting Democrats are focused on "bullshit" in all-caps.
Democrats warned him to expect a subpoena demanding documents related to his handling of Ukraine. House intelligence chairman Adam Schiff warned against witness intimidation or incitement to violence and said obstruction of justice could be added to any articles of impeachment.
Trump responded by declaring Schiff should be investigated: "It should be criminal. It should be treasonous. He made it up, every word of it, made up."


EU Defends Ireland

The Guardian

European Council president Donald Tusk tweeted two messages:
 To Leo Varadkar: We stand fully behind Ireland.
 To Boris Johnson: We remain open but still unconvinced.
European Parliament Brexit steering group: "Safeguarding peace and stability on the island of Ireland, protection of citizens and EU's legal order has to be the main focus of any deal. The UK proposals do not match even remotely what was agreed as a sufficient compromise in the backstop."
European Commission spokeswoman: "There are problematic points in the UK's proposal and further work is needed. This work is for the UK to do, not the other way around."



Jenni Russell

At the Conservative party conference, the mood is ugly. The Brexiteer narrative of betrayal makes sense if you think the referendum overrode parliament and trumped representative democracy. Voters were asked to make a decision and gave their order.
They do not accept or understand that they were being asked a very simple question about a very complicated situation. A no-deal Brexit is not an end but a tortured beginning. The UK cannot just slice through all its most valuable trading relationships.
In the simplistic world in which we will be prosperous, proud, and independent the minute the UK gets out of the EU and the only obstacles to leaving are the conniving Remainer elites, it is no wonder that Brexit voters are becoming increasingly furious.
Downing Street says after Brexit the anger will subside. But those in power who are now flaunting ideas of conspiracy and betrayal are cutting the ties of trust that hold society together, merely to win the next election. They will regret it.


Lazy Bo Kills It

John Crace

Government ministers filed into the Conservative party conference hall and took their seats to a standing ovation. Stanley Johnson and Carrie Symonds got an even more enthusiastic reception. Cries of "BO-RIS, BO-RIS" filled the hall as Boris Johnson made his entrance.
This was a golden moment delivered on a silver spoon. Bo had really meant to write a proper speech. But what with one thing and another, it was only after breakfast that he had finally made a start, and then his mind had gone blank.
He centered on how parliament was essentially a total waste of time. Brexit was basically a breeze. Whatever the EU might say to the contrary, the customs union and the Good Friday agreement were basically just technicalities. If it didn't work out, he could always blame the EU or parliament.
Ten minutes in, the Incredible Hulk realized that he'd basically said all he wanted to say and began to ad-lib. Punctuated by gags that hadn't been particularly funny when he'd first told them years ago, it was desperate stuff from a man for whom the truth has always been another country.
He said we were on the brink of a new era of nuclear fusion with Britain at the fore. He said London was the most productive region of the EU. He said a Brexit delay would cost £1 billion a month. He was lost in his own world, where he was totally killing it.
He was actually dying on his feet. Tory party members had come in search of a vision. Instead they got a vacuous after-dinner speech. The final applause and cries of "Bo-ris, Bo-ris" were fainter now.

2019 October 2

Deal or No Deal

BBC News, 1116 UTC

Boris Johnson says there should be "no doubt" the only alternative to the Brexit proposals he will put to Brussels is a no-deal Brexit. Addressing his party conference in Manchester, the prime minister said his plan was a "compromise by the UK" and hoped the EU would compromise too. The European Commission says it will examine the proposals objectively.



Andrea Ucini

Quarks are elementary particles. They have the quantum properties of flavor and spin. They cluster together in pairs (in mesons) or triplets (in baryons). And they have a charge we label with three colors (red, green, blue) mediated by gluons.
Quarks of different colors can sit together because their color charges cancel out to white. A quark and an antiquark can sit together if they have color and anti-color charges. Single quarks never appear because without their color partners they are too unstable.
The theory of quarks and the color force is quantum chromodynamics (QCD). Full QCD calculations are forbiddingly complex, so most of the properties of sets of quarks are calculated using simpler effective models.
Gerard 't Hooft once made a bold compromise on accuracy by discarding the parts of the QCD equations that describe color. He let quarks have any number of colors, even an infinite number. Because a set of quarks can be stable only if all colors balance, an infinite number of colors implies baryons with infinite numbers of quarks.
Every quark has a quantum spin. Multiply the number of quarks and you raise the maximum spin. In extreme cases, when all the quarks have their spins aligned, the baryon has so much spin the model struggles.
The resolution comes from string theory. Under certain circumstances, quarks can take on a fraction of their usual spin. It turns out QCD can describe quarks with fractional spin too.
Zohar Komargodski brings all the quark ideas together using the infinite color model but giving the quarks freedom to take on fractional spins. Instead of a 3D cluster of quarks jostling for position, the high spin forms a 2D pancake of quantum foam, and quarks with fractional spin emerge from it.
The implication is that the quarks here are not fundamental at all, but emerge from the behavior of quantum foam. The quarks are emergent rather than fundamental particles.

2019 October 1

The People's Republic of China Celebrates Turning 70

The Guardian

The 70th anniversary of the PRC is less a historical commemoration than a political event. The Communist party of China (CPC) has understood the power of history ever since it took over in 1949. Xi Jinping understands its power better than any leader since Mao Zedong.
The west will watch closely as the People's Liberation Army unveils new missile, stealth, and unmanned vehicle capabilities. The PRC has outlived its big brother, the Soviet Union, and outgrown western economies.
Many in China are grateful for party rule. It enjoys a level of support that many western governments would envy. The last 70 years have seen extraordinary progress in lifespan, literacy, and incomes as hundreds of millions of people worked their way out of poverty.
The CPC has constructed a history in which its central role is ending national humiliation. China is seeking to reshape the international order once more. Xi is already looking ahead to the PRC's centenary.

New PLA weapons on parade

Chairman Xi

⦿ Xinhua
President Xi Jinping gave a speech at a grand rally at Tian'anmen Square in Beijing to celebrate the 70th anniversary
of the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC).
"Seventy years ago on this day, Comrade Mao Zedong solemnly declared here to the world that the PRC was founded and
the Chinese people had stood up."
Xi pledged China will stay on the path of peaceful development and pursue a mutually beneficial strategy of opening up.
"We will continue to work with people from all countries to push for jointly building a community with a shared future for humanity."
Xi stressed that the People's Liberation Army and the People's Armed Police Force should always preserve their nature, purpose,
and character as the forces of the people, resolutely safeguard China's sovereignty, security, and development interests,
and firmly uphold world peace.
"China will surely have an even brighter future."

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

⦿ PA
British Antarctic Survey research ship Sir David Attenborough is launched. In 2016, the Natural Environment Research Council
held a referendum inviting the public to choose a name for the ship. After a radio campaign, a runaway majority of the votes
were cast for the name Boaty McBoatface. In May 2016, UK science minister Jo Johnson announced the official name,
leaving unsaid the reason that the popular choice was just too bloody stupid to be adopted.

AR Ergo exit Brexit.


Get it done

Order of the Garter


33 days

⦿ Yui Mok
PM advisor Dom Cummings

He lied

Stephanie Wehner
Stephanie Wehner, Delft UT,
coordinates the Quantum
Internet Alliance, an
EU initiative


2019 September 30

Trump Impeachment

Sheryl Gay Stolberg

Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a private appeal on Sunday to Democrats not to squander their chance to build public support for an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. "The polls have changed drastically about this. Our tone must be prayerful, respectful, solemn, worthy of the Constitution."
Representative Adam B. Schiff: "We have to flesh out all of the facts for the American people. The seriousness of the matter and the danger to our country demands nothing less."
Representative Josh Gottheimer: "We need to make sure this is fact-driven and evidence-based. You can't prejudge something that is so solemn and obviously could have a big historical impact on our country, and you need to keep the country together."
Representative Angie Craig: "I'm going to tell my constituents that this is a decision I never wanted to have to make, that the president left us no choice but to open an impeachment inquiry."


"Fraud and Treason"

Donald Trump

Like every American, I deserve to meet my accuser, especially when this accuser, the so-called 'Whistleblower,' represented a perfect conversation with a foreign leader in a totally inaccurate and fraudulent way.
His lies were made in perhaps the most blatant and sinister manner ever seen in the great Chamber. He wrote down and read terrible things, then said it was from the mouth of the President of the United States. I want Schiff questioned at the highest level for Fraud & Treason.


Brexit Backstop

Financial Times

At the Conservative party conference in Manchester, DUP leader Arlene Foster warned that she was not prepared to see new border checks in the Irish Sea as part of any Brexit deal. She said a time-limited version of the backstop was "something we would look at" but that Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar had already ruled out a time-limited backstop.
An aide for Boris Johnson: "We want the backstop removed entirely."
Johnson will spend the next three days in Manchester promising to "get Brexit done" and offering tough rhetoric to party activists before heading back to London to negotiate an exit deal with Brussels. He hopes the creation of an "all-Ireland" regulatory zone can pave the way to a Brexit deal. He needs DUP support to persuade hardline ERG Brexiteers to back his deal.
ERG leader Jacob Rees-Mogg: "Like Gulliver tied down at Lilliput, we are tied down by a ragtag, motley collection of feeble, fickle, footling politicians, all in desperate pursuit of a single ignoble aim: to renege on the solemn promise they made to the British people."
Minister for no-deal preparations Michael Gove: "The level of our preparations has accelerated massively [but] we cannot anticipate every risk and cannot guarantee against some turbulence."


"Surrender Act"

Jörg Schindler

Boris Johnson is in a desperate plight. He can only win a general election by getting the votes of the angry Brits seduced by the hellfire and damnation ranting of Nigel Farage. Johnson is defending his right flank by aping Farage, but no one knows if this will work.
If he had a comfortable majority, Johnson could either conclude a last-minute deal with Brussels and whip it through parliament or leave the EU without a deal. The way to trigger new elections is for his Commons opponents to call a vote of no confidence.
In early September, Johnson prorogued parliament. He wanted to force angry MPs to call a vote to trigger an election for which he would set the date. No one could stop him from letting October 31 go by and then campaigning in triumph.
Instead of falling into this trap, MPs passed an act that hit Johnson hard. He must now conclude a deal with Brussels by the EU summit in mid-October or ask for an extension of article 50 beyond Halloween. Johnson says he would "rather be dead in a ditch" than ask for an extension.
After the prorogation was ruled null and void, Johnson shouted "surrender act" at his opponents in parliament. MPs now fear for their personal safety.


Europe Is Not the Enemy

Joris Luyendijk

The present UK prime minister has taken nastiness to an entirely new level. The UK government lies about nonexistent negotiations with the EU and threatens to renege on its outstanding financial obligations. The leader of the Commons threatened to sabotage the EU from within if Brexit was postponed, and the prime minister compared the EU to the Nazis.
The Britain that most democratic Europeans love still exists. Yet the terrible truth is that this progressive side of Britain is in deep disarray. The dominant four newspapers in Britain by circulation have been brainwashing their readers with fake news about the EU for years.
The Conservative party has elected the most callous, ruthless, mendacious, and superficial politician in living memory as its leader. According to the polls, this deeply nasty man is easily the most popular politician in the country.
If the UK opts for the no-deal disaster so many of its leaders and publications crave, the UK must take the blame. Brexit is an act of the UK against the EU. The EU cannot save a country that does not want to save itself.


"The Will of the People"

Gideon Rachman

Legal crises have now broken out on both sides of the Atlantic. They are signs that the laws and conventions that underpin liberal democracy are under attack in both the UK and the US, two countries that have long regarded themselves as democratic role models for the world.
The Trump and Johnson camps are whipping up their supporters to believe that their legal problems are acts of revenge by political enemies who are intent on thwarting the will of the people. In their approach to politics, once you accept that the end justifies the means, any tactic is permissible.
The implied threat of violence is already part of the Trump−Johnson playbook. The political arguments made by both the Johnson and Trump administrations use the language of democracy, but the underlying logic has more in common with populist authoritarianism.
When leaders such as Johnson and Trump claim a direct mandate from the people, they treat the other institutions of a democratic society with contempt, and even threaten them with violent retribution at the hands of the people. The degeneration of liberal democracy in its Anglo-American heartlands will have a global impact.

AR Democracy works best when the electorate is intelligent and well educated enough to appreciate the issues at stake. The bigger issues we face are now complex enough to ensure that democracy as we know it works less well.

2019 September 29

Address to the United Nations

Donald Trump

These animals in the press. They're animals actually — some of the worst human beings you'll ever meet. They're scum — many of them are scum.
I didn't do anything. I don't know if I'm the most innocent person in the world. I just said I'm the most presidential except for possibly Abe Lincoln when he wore the hat — that was tough to beat. Honest Abe, when he wore that hat, that was tough to beat. But I can't do that, that hat wouldn't work for me. Yeah, I have better hair than him.

AR Verbatim


One Nation Conservatism

Damian Green

I believe that the tradition of One Nation Conservatism must remain strong. A growing number of Conservative MPs are joining the One Nation Caucus, which I chair.
Brexit has divided the country, so the job of any thoughtful Conservative is to devise ways we can reunite it. Any Conservative worth the name recognises that a country shouting at itself is unlikely to continue caring about its institutions and history.
The Conservative party can reconnect with the decent instincts of the majority of British people only if it puts One Nation politics at the heart of its mission.


The Garter

Tim Shipman

The supreme court rebuke has led to a breakdown of trust between Buckingham Palace and Downing Street.
A Whitehall source: "They are not impressed by what is going on — at the very highest levels of the family."
A palace courtier: "Boris joins Cameron and Blair. Not in the Queen's lifetime will any of them ever receive the garter."
Sir John Major, the last prime minister to be bestowed with the Order of the Garter, remains close to the palace.


Brexit Piffle

Ian McEwan

I've become a junkie of the Brexit process. There's a spirit of collective adventure, a touch of Enid Blyton about it.
Brexit has reached absurdity. No reasoned case is now made for it. No economic case, such as for the Norway model, is now mentioned. It's become like a religion. It has entered the realm of the mystical, the English version of Blut und Boden.
A charming, humorous man has turned into a boneheaded populist using the puerile language of shackles. I don't want to suggest Brexit politicians are cockroaches. It's a metaphor for something ugly that has entered the Brexit argument.
It's a great triumph of our society, a triumph of meritocracy, that we have 16 million in the elite! All we need to do is try to bring up the other 17.4 million.
The £350 million-a-week lie on the side of the bus is nothing to compared to the lie of Take Back Control. People will have not more control. Every trade deal is a compromise with sovereignty. People were sold a whopper. It deserves satire.
Brexit is piffle compared to climate change or the nuclear arms race, but it's our piffle.

AR Enid Blyton: "The secret island .. seemed more enchanting than ever .. Oh, what a secret island, all for their very own, to live on and play on."

2019 September 28

Trump Versus China

Financial Times

The White House is weighing a plan to stop Chinese companies listing on US exchanges. President Trump's advisers are exploring steps to limit financial investments between America and China. Other options include curbing the ability of US government pension funds to buy Chinese equities.
Next week, Beijing is preparing a national celebration to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.


Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

President Trump is the legitimate president. He campaigned as an iconoclast, but it became clear early in his administration that his disruptiveness was aimed less at bringing fresh thinking to bear on stale policymaking than at assaulting the vital institutions of governance.
The facts are not in dispute. A president's use of his power for his own political gain, at the expense of the public interest, is the quintessence of an impeachable offense. There is no known precedent for a president pressuring a foreign nation to tear down a political rival.
Trump was working to subvert the 2020 election. The House now has a duty to protect the integrity of the election by using its powers to conduct a methodical and fair investigation. Trump has left Congress no other recourse than considering impeachment.


This UK Government

Sir John Major

UK government ministers assure us they are moving toward a deal. It seems more likely that we will end up leaving the EU without any deal at all.
The government tells us everyone is fed up with Brexit. But no one should believe that Brexit will end on the day we leave. Its negative impact will be felt for a long time.
There is much talk of a general election. If the government were confident in the aftermath of their Brexit policy, they would wait for next spring and take credit for its success. Instead the government seems intent on whipping up dissent by using highly emotional and evocative language that can only provoke fear and anger.
I fear the government will seek to bypass statute law by passing an order of council to suspend the Benn act until after 31 October. Ministers can pass an order of council without involving the Queen. This would be a piece of political chicanery that no one should ever forgive or forget.
I hope the Conservative parliamentary party will rein in the faction of a faction that now prevails in cabinet.

2019 September 27

Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

The whistle-blower whose claims led Democrats to begin an impeachment inquiry against President Trump is a CIA officer who was previously detailed to work at the White House and had expertise on Ukraine. When Trump called the claims a "political hack job," we decided to publish information about the whistle-blower to help readers make their own judgments.


Surrender Humbug

Stephen Bush

Before 16 June 2016, MPs tended to file death threats in the waste-paper bin. The assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox has changed all that. Even Conservative MPs fear the rising anger in British politics will make them targets.
Boris Johnson knows the power of words. He knows that when he uses language like "surrender act" it has consequences. His political calculation is that it will help him realign British politics on Leave−Remain lines and then win an election.
When he tells Paula Sherriff, a Labour MP who has faced death threats, that her request that he moderate his language is "humbug" he knows this will antagonize MPs into refusing a deal and forcing a divisive election.


Mobilizing Rage

Sean O'Grady

Boris Johnson is polarizing British politics. He is mobilizing his base of angry and frustrated Leavers. He wants to be seen doing battle with parliament in the name of the people.
Johnson thinks he is fighting a vast Remain Establishment conspiracy, the mainstream media, and now the judiciary too. His dog-whistle style follows the ruthless advice of Dominic Cummings.
On Brexit, there is no middle ground. The bell curve has been replaced by twin peaks. The only way to win a war like this is to fire up the other side and beat them in battle.
Scenes of Johnson winding up the Remainers will recruit former Labour or UKIP voters into the Conservative camp. The army of populist revolt is fighting for Brexit in a war to save Britain.
Johnson would love to be arrested for defying the "surrender act" by refusing to request an article 50 extension from the EU. He would declare himself Britain's first Brexit martyr.
You cannot trust this man.


UK Constitutional Reform

Jolyon Maugham

A prime minister willing to shrug off the political cost of legal defeats can continue to suspend parliament at will. MPs must replace the prime minister.
The House of Commons can identify an individual in whom it has confidence and communicate that view to the Queen, who would invite that individual to form a new government. With no vote of no confidence, there is no risk of a general election if MPs find no one.
Successive governments and prime ministers have made no attempt to find in the referendum vote a democratically sustainable mandate for anything. We have had instead a series of undeliverable promises that have outraged Remainers and Leavers alike.
An emergency government should commission a statutory inquiry to hear evidence from the public and produce a recommendation to be put back to the electorate in a referendum.
The emergency government could also implement a program of constitutional reform. The UK constitution has been tested and found wanting.



Philip Goff

If we want a theory of consciousness (TOC), we need to accommodate both the quantitative data of physical science and the qualitative reality of consciousness.
Physical science says a lot about the behavior of matter, but nothing about its intrinsic nature. Here is a hole in our scientific worldview. We can put consciousness in the hole.
Neuroscience is necessary but not sufficient for a TOC. Neuroscience gives you correlations. Trying to explain those correlations takes you beyond what can be settled empirically.
Panpsychism has deep problems. The integrated information theory (IIT) is an emergentist panpsychist model of consciousness. IIT may be our best TOC.

2019 September 26

White House Coverup

CNN, 1549 UTC

Former Obama VP Joe Biden: "[Trump] believes he can do anything and get away with it."
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "The complaint states that the White House tried to lock down all records of the call, especially the word for word transcript. That gave the whistle-blower reason to believe that they, the White House, understood the gravity of what transpired in that call. The complaint reports a repeated abuse of an electronics record system designed to store classified, sensitive national security information which the White House used to hide information of a political nature."
Republicans say the whistle-blower acknowledges he or she did not have first-hand knowledge of most of the events described.

Whistle-blower complaint regarding President Trump and Ukraine


HM Government 0, Opposition 7

BBC News, 1338 UTC

HM Government has lost its 7th vote of 7 since Boris Johnson became prime minister. MPs voted by 306 to 289 against a motion calling for a 3-day parliamentary recess next week to coincide with the Conservative party conference in Manchester.


Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

The announcement by speaker Nancy Pelosi that the House is opening a formal impeachment investigation of US president Trump is historic.
After months of watching the president ravage democratic norms and taunt lawmakers, Congress is saying there are lines that cannot be crossed.
Trump says impeachment will benefit him politically. Many Democrats admit that possibility. But they believe the costs of inaction are too high.
Trump's dealings with Ukraine triggered the formal inquiry. America will not tolerate the meddling of other nations in its elections.


Surrender, Betrayal, Traitor

The Times

In the House of Commons yesterday, Boris Johnson told MPs they must deliver Brexit.
Labour MP Paula Sherriff: "Many of us [are] subjected to death threats and abuse every single day. They often quote [Johnson's] words — surrender act, betrayal, traitor — and I for one am sick of it. We must moderate our language."
Johnson: "I have never heard such humbug in all my life."


Britain's Hour of Crisis

Philip Stephens

Boris Johnson enjoyed a display of mutual backslapping with Donald Trump during his visit to New York — two demagogues united in contempt for democratic values.
Johnson and his fellow English nationalists claim to guard national sovereignty against the EU. The real threat is not from Brussels but from the prime minister.
Johnson frames the supreme court decision as the latest instalment in an imagined conspiracy against Brexit. His aim is to mark out the ground to fight an election.
Real life points to a request for another extension of the Article 50 process. The EU27 could be forgiven for expelling Britain in its hour of crisis.


Quantum Internet

Stephanie Wehner

We will discover all kinds of applications for quantum networks. One is to use quantum communication for quantum key distribution.
Quantum keys use qubits. I can have a qubit here and you can have a qubit in New York, and we can use the quantum internet to entangle them. If I make a measurement on my qubit here and you make the same measurement in New York, we will always get the same outcome. No one else can share that entanglement: Quantum communication is secure.
New kinds of remote computing become possible. Say you have a proprietary material design and you want to test its properties. You use a simple quantum device and the network to send your design to me, and I run a simulation for you on my quantum computer and tell you the outcome, yet I cannot spy on your design.
A quantum internet can also be used to combine distant telescopes. The state of the photons coming into telescope 1 are teleported, using entanglement, to telescope 2, and then combined with those of telescope 2.
With our simulation platform, which is now running on a supercomputer, we can explore different quantum network configurations and study properties that are hard to predict analytically. We hope to find a scalable design that can enable quantum communication across Europe.
We will learn more physics by making these networks. In computer science, we will learn new ways to program and control them.

AR Quantum technology like this is the way to new science.


Quantum Supremacy

New Scientist

Google appears to have achieved quantum supremacy, where a quantum computer is able to perform a calculation that is practically impossible for a classical one.
Google's quantum computer consisted of only 54 qubits. For quantum computers to really come into their own, they may need thousands of qubits.
Qubits must be isolated from vibrations that can decohere them. Google, IBM, Microsoft, Intel, and others are all looking at how to advance the technology. The next challenge is to build a quantum computer that has quantum supremacy plus error correcting codes.
The biggest step is to do something useful. Google's quantum computer tackled a random circuit sampling problem. It's impressive, but there's no practical use for it.
University of Texas at Austin professor Scott Aaronson: "There are certain quantities that you'd like to know that you can't easily learn from experiment and can't calculate with supercomputers today. This is where quantum computers can help."

AR Scott seems to be the go-to guy for such handy quotes.

Soyuz 61

⦿ Christina Koch
Soyuz 61 makes its way from the Baikonur Cosmodrome to the International Space Station, photographed from the ISS

Special Report on the
Ocean and Cryosphere
in a Changing Climate

Global warming has led to
widespread shrinking of the
cryosphere. The global ocean
has taken up more than 90% of
the excess heat in the climate
system. Global mean sea level
is rising, with acceleration
in recent decades.

Reopen parliament

Pound sterling leaps to
$1.25 and €1.13

BoJo, NY
Boris Johnson dismayed
in New York

Jeremy Corbyn
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

Oil war

19 of the world's best WW2
museums and historical sites


An Update

Climate strike


2019 September 25

Climate Change

Spiegel Plus

July 2019 was the hottest month worldwide since weather records began. Around 200 million people in 350 cities worldwide struggle with temperatures exceeding 35 C. Over the next 30 years, the number of affected cities is forecast to triple.
Since industrialization began, humans have emitted so much CO2 that the global average temperature has increased by about 1 K. Every decade raises it a further 0.2 K. Worldwide, the years since 2014 are the warmest since records began.
In its October 2018 report, the IPCC asked whether the world can limit warming to 1.5 K by 2100 and concluded that every country must do more. Global CO2 emissions must halve by 2030. By 2055, they must fall to net zero. Global warming of 2 K would lead to massive damage and mortal danger for millions of people.
Every year, human activity produces tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases that cover the Earth like a blanket and prevent solar energy from escaping. An atmospheric CO2 level of 400 ppm was reached in 2013 for the first time in at least 3 My.
Cities suffer from the heat island effect and become hotter than their surroundings by up to 10 K. Beijing and Tokyo have heated up five times faster in the past 100 years than their neighborhoods.
The summer of 2003 broke temperature records. Some 15,000 people died within weeks in France, 7,000 in Germany, 70,000 across Europe. And the frequency of such heat waves is increasing.
In Delhi, temperatures reached 48 C this June. Delhi has also become more humid in recent years. More humid air leads to heavier rainfall, which in turn leads to floods. This year, floods hit Nepal, Bangladesh, and India's northeast. Millions were expelled from their homes and crops destroyed.
In the interior of South Africa, the temperature is almost 2 K higher than 100 years ago. The length of the dry season is increasing, and when it rains, it is more torrential. Lack of water as a result of climate change is the new normal in South Africa.
This is the state of the world in 2019, with 1 K of global warming. Things could quickly get a lot worse, due to climate feedbacks. Snow reflects sunlight into space. Forests and Arctic permafrost soils store carbon. As global temperatures rise, snow melts, forests burn, permafrost thaws. More CO2 gets into the atmosphere, warming accelerates and more CO2 escapes.
The permafrost soils store twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere, partly as methane, which is up to 86 times as harmful to the climate as CO2 over a period of 20 years. Glaciers around the world are melting faster than predicted. In Russia, huge methane bubbles are bulging up in thawing permafrost and exploding, and in the Arctic the forests are burning.
There is hope. The UK is a pioneer in climate change. In 2008, the Climate Change Act stipulated a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. By 2050, Brits will have to fly less and eat less meat and dairy products. Electricity will come entirely from renewable sources and only electric cars will be sold.
In the WEF energy transition ranking, the UK is now ranked 7th, behind Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Austria. Germany is ranked 17th.
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact founding director Hans Joachim Schellnhuber: "There will always be those who put their heads in the sand and ignore the dangers of climate change, but a much larger number of us are determined to overcome this sluggishness."

2019 September 24

Armed Aggressor Abroad

Laura Kuenssberg

Prime minister Boris Johnson is in New York at the United Nations. MPs will be sitting again in Parliament on Wednesday. Do not underestimate how aggressive Johnson might be in response to the judgement. He may fly straight back from New York armed with a strategy.


Boris, Bercow, Brexit

Daily Mail

Boris Johnson: "We in the UK will not be deterred from delivering the will of the British people. I strongly disagree with this decision of the Supreme Court. I have the upmost respect for our judiciary but I don't think this was the right decision .. there are a lot of people who want to frustrate Brexit. There are a lot of people who want to stop this country coming out of the EU."
John Bercow: "In the light of that explicit judgment, I have instructed the House authorities to prepare for the resumption of the business of the House of Commons."
European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt: "At least one big relief in the Brexit saga: the rule of law in the UK is alive and kicking."


Calamity, Car Crash

Daniel Finkelstein

The government has made a grave error. For a Conservative government to find its actions revoked and reversed by the highest court and for it to have given advice to the Queen which has been found unlawful is a calamity. The government may be tempted to see this judgment as a bump in the road. This is a car crash.


UK Supreme Court Ruling

BBC News, 1045 BST

Lady Hale says the decision of the court is unanimous that the prime minister's advice to the Queen on prorogation is justiciable. This case is about the limits of the power to prorogue parliament. Parliamentary sovereignty would be undermined if the executive abused its power to prorogue parliament.
Prorogation would be unlawful if its effect were to limit the power of parliament to exercise its constitutional function. This is true independently of what the prime minister's motive or intention may have been at the time of the decision. The court concludes that the prime minister's advice to the Queen to prorogue parliament was unlawful.
The court further concludes that the prorogation was void and of no effect. Parliament has not been prorogued. This is the unanimous verdict of the court. Gina Miller's appeal is allowed.

AR Great relief — Boris Johnson is rebuffed.


Universal Basic Services

The Labour Party

Some things in life are too important to be left to the market. The labour movement has long upheld that many of the key things in life should be provided collectively, funded out of general taxation and free at the point of use for everyone.
Collectively provided universal public services create shared experiences that bring us together as a society. They strengthen social bonds and contribute to our quality of life in ways economists struggle to measure but are vital to leading a rich and fulfilling life.
Universal public services, free at the point of use, will be a central pillar of the economic program of the next Labour government. Alongside structural reform and social security, universal public services are how we will create an economy that serves us instead of making us its servants.
Our vision of what services ought to be universal and basic will continue to expand. We have clawed back services that have been at risk of becoming commodified in the past. We must maintain that sense of direction and overcome the barriers thrown in our path.
The campaign for universal basic services has always been part of a bigger struggle between labour and capital. We must fight for a society based upon social justice. We can demand ever higher standards for a rich and meaningful life.

AR Tories will say these are empty aspirations. Well, aspirations matter.


Infernal Trio

Spiegel Plus

For Saudi Arabia, it was a total humiliation. The world's largest oil refinery went up in flames. The United States and the Saudis think Iran was behind the attack.
An infernal trio is ready to go to war. US president Donald Trump has already plunged the world into chaos with his aggressive and haphazard policies. Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) maintains a rivalry with Iran and wages a cruel war in Yemen. Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is a fundamentalist steeled by decades of struggle against the Great Satan.
Trump cannot start another war if he wants to be re-elected in 2020. He has not even fulfilled his election pledge to bring home US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. An attack on Iran would lead to total war. It would be a nightmare for Trump.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has been expanding its power throughout the Mideast region for decades and is associated with the Shia faith. Khamenei is now 80 years old, and the hardliners are stronger than ever. Revolutionary Guard Elite Force leader Qasem Soleimani is a battle-hardened war hero and the real architect of Iran's foreign and security policy in the region.
Saudi Arabia claims to lead the Sunni variant of Islam. But despite spending hundreds of billions on Western arms, Saudi Arabia is militarily far weaker than Iran. Riyadh has been waging a brutal war in Yemen for four years without success.
Trump quit the nuclear agreement with Iran and sealed an alliance with Saudi Arabia. He will find it difficult to form a coalition against Tehran. Britain, France, and Germany had reached the agreement with Tehran over years of hard negotiations. Trump nixed it with a stroke of a pen.
Trump will do any deal if the money is right. Saudi Arabia agreed to invest $450 billion in America, so it has his backing. Trump cannot tighten economic sanctions any further against Iran but hopes he can force the regime to back down.
Americans no longer depend on Saudi oil. In the short term, they even benefit from the refinery attack. If Trump asks for help, Europeans are not listening.

AR I fear Boris will back Trump.

2019 Autumn Equinox

Trump Scandal


The Ukraine scandal raging around Donald Trump is forcing Democrats to confront a fateful choice on impeachment. The facts of whether the President pressured Ukraine to investigate his potential Democratic general election opponent Joe Biden while a US military aid package was on the table are still unclear. It looks like the Trump team is using the power of the presidency to incite collusion ahead of the 2020 election.


Trump Fest

Swati Narayan, Manpreet K. Singh

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi joined US president Donald Trump onstage in Houston for a rally to celebrate the growing ties between India and America. Both leaders stoke divisions with policies that chip away at democracy and both claim they are acting within their national laws. History shows something can be legal without being moral.


Peak Populist

Michael Sauga

President Donald Trump has maneuvered himself into a dead end in his trade war with China. UK prime minister Boris Johnson faces defeat after defeat in parliament. Has the populist wave that flooded the globe after the financial crisis peaked?
To succeed as an autocrat, you must meet three conditions:
 You have to convince people you have the best ideas.
 The existing democratic institutions must have lost much of their legitimacy.
 Your tirades against the powerful in the old system must be credible.
Then you can surf to power on a wave of discontent.
Trump promised to lead America to new heights. But the high growth rates of his first years in office have now given way to a slowdown, for which he is responsible. If he fights on, the economy could crash. If he relents, he looks like a loser.
Johnson promised to save UK democracy from the EU. But it was Johnson who betrayed democracy by proroguing parliament. He must now either renege on his Brexit promise or flout the new law against a no-deal Brexit.
It is still too early to proclaim victory. But the liberal model is winning. People still trust the principles of the rule of law, freedom of expression, and separation of powers.

2019 September 22

Trump Dilemma

Sir Lawrence Freedman

President Donald Trump is holding back on punishing Iran for the attacks on a Saudi oil facility.
The crisis began last year, when Trump decided to opt out of the nuclear agreement with Iran and reimpose harsh economic sanctions. The obvious next step is to negotiate with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. But some reports say he authorised the attack on the Saudi facility.
Trump is proposing more economic sanctions, which have declining returns. He does not want war.

AR Trump fears a war would drag on into the 2020 election campaign.


Queen Dilemma

Nick Cohen

The Queen cannot insist the UK prime minister obeys the rules, because her realm has too few rules and too many old conventions.
Elizabeth II claims to be above politics. Now the pose has been exposed. Boris Johnson knows the old conventions can be subverted. He has prorogued parliament to escape democratic control.
The Queen could have denied his request for prorogation. She has broken the convention that she is above politics.

AR The UK needs a written constitution and a president with legal teeth.


Climate Change on Venus

Ashley Strickland, CNN

Venus likely maintained stable temperatures and hosted liquid water for billions of years before an event triggered drastic changes in the planet.
Today, Venus is a mostly dead planet with a toxic atmosphere at 90 bar and surface temperatures that reach 735 K. Its size is similar to Earth.
A new study of climate simulations of Venus shows the planet could have supported liquid water and a temperate climate on its surface for at least 3 Gy. But between 700 and 750 My BP, something triggered the release of CO2 from rocks, transforming the climate.
Study author Michael Way: "Our hypothesis is that Venus may have had a stable climate for billions of years. It is possible that the near-global resurfacing event is responsible for its transformation from an Earth-like climate to the hellish hothouse we see today."
To recreate likely conditions on Venus from 4.2 Gy BP, simulations gradually increased solar radiation. Sunlight on Venus evaporated H2O, let H2 escape into space, and trapped CO2. That caused a greenhouse effect and formed a toxic atmosphere. The topography was transformed by volcanic eruptions that most likely filled in lowland regions and any ocean basins.
Way: "Venus currently has almost twice the solar radiation that we have at Earth. However, in all the scenarios we have modeled, we have found that Venus could still support surface temperatures amenable for liquid water."
It seems Venus went through a rapid cooling phase a few billion years after it formed. The atmosphere was then full of CO2. If Venus evolved like Earth, that CO2 would have been trapped in rocks, leaving an atmosphere of N2 with trace amounts of CO2 and CH4. But around 700 My BP, vulcanism released CO2 back into the atmosphere, which caused a runaway greenhouse effect.
Way: "Something happened on Venus where a huge amount of gas was released into the atmosphere and couldn't be re-absorbed by the rocks .. It completely transformed Venus."
Way presented his study at the EPSC-DPS 2019 meeting in Geneva.

2019 September 21

Climate Change

Friends of the Earth

Anyone can tell that the weather is getting wilder and affecting us all. Climate change is happening now. Yet there are clear signs of hope as more and more people join together to take action.


Climate Change Science

The Royal Society

⦿ Earth's climate is warming. Average surface air temperature has increased by about 0.8 K since 1900, largely in recent decades. The evidence is incontrovertible.
⦿ Recent climate change is largely caused by human activities. The dominant influence of human activities on recent climate change is clear from the greenhouse effect and from patterns of recent climate change.
⦿ Human activities have disturbed the natural carbon cycle by extracting fossil fuels and burning them for energy, thus releasing CO2 to the atmosphere. The CO2 level has risen 40% since the Industrial Revolution.
⦿ The Sun has not played a major role in recent climate change. Variations in solar energy affect Earth's climate, but we see no overall increase in solar energy while the climate has warmed.
⦿ The observed warming in the lower atmosphere and cooling higher up in the stratosphere is the result expected from increases in CO2 and decreases in stratospheric ozone. Natural factors alone cannot explain the observed changes.
⦿ Climate change is disruptive. Past climate changes led to extinction of many species, population migrations, and pronounced changes in the land surface and in ocean circulation. The speed of the current change makes it more difficult to adapt.
⦿ The present level of atmospheric CO2 is the highest for a million years. Atmospheric CO2 levels were higher many millions of years ago, when temperatures and sea levels were also higher.
⦿ Adding more CO2 to the atmosphere will cause surface temperatures to continue to increase. The extra CO2 becomes less effective at trapping energy, but surface temperature will still rise.
⦿ The observed warming rate has varied from year to year, decade to decade, and place to place. The variations are mostly due to natural causes. The warming trend in recent decades is mainly due to greenhouse gases.
⦿ Since 1998, the increase in average surface temperature has slowed relative to the previous decade, with more of the excess heat being stored in the oceans. Surface temperatures in the 2000s were on average warmer than the 1990s.
⦿ Global warming is a long-term trend. Day to day and year to year changes in weather patterns still produce cold days and nights, and winters and summers.
⦿ Arctic sea ice is reducing while Antarctic sea ice is not because sea ice extent is affected by winds and ocean currents as well as temperature.
⦿ The lower atmosphere is becoming warmer and moister as a result of greenhouse gases. More water is drawn into major rain storms. Extra energy makes the strongest hurricanes stronger. More dry areas in the subtropics are expected.
⦿ Sea level is rising at 3.2 mm per year. The overall observed rise since 1901 is about 20 cm. If greenhouse gases continue to rise, sea level may rise by a further 0.5 to 1 m by 2100.
⦿ Oceans soak up about a quarter of the CO2 emissions from human activities each year. The oceans shift to a more acidic state. Acidification impacts marine ecosystems and the food web.
⦿ If emissions continue on their present path, further warming of 2.6 to 4.8 K is expected by the end of this century. Questions remain as to how some natural processes amplify or reduce warming.
⦿ Global warming of just a few degrees will be associated with widespread changes in regional and local temperature and rainfall and more extreme weather events. This will have serious impacts on human societies and the natural world.
⦿ Science is a continual process of observation, understanding, modeling, and testing. The predicted trend in global warming from greenhouse gases is robust and is confirmed by a growing body of evidence.
⦿ Our best climate models do not indicate any abrupt changes in the climate in the near future. As warming increases, major abrupt change is possible.
⦿ Even if human emissions of greenhouse gases were to suddenly stop, Earth's surface temperature would not cool to the level before the Industrial Revolution for thousands of years.

AR The science is clear as day.

Global temps

⦿ Ed Hawkins
Annual global temperatures 1850−2018

Climate demo

⦿ AP
Greta Goes Global — Mass demos in big cities worldwide protest government inaction on climate change — here London

Me at Tiger Day

Jo Swinson
Jo Swinson

44 days

LD Stop Brexit

Tiger Day 2019
My photos

Time Magazine
"I'm sorry."

There Will Be Blood


2019 September 20

Trump: No Hope

The Guardian

Donald Trump is set to speak at the UN headquarters during the UN climate crisis summit on Monday, but will not attend the summit. The White House has booked a room in the same building on the same day so that the president can address a gathering on religious freedom instead. Trump will insult the climate summiteers.


Brexit: No Hope

The Guardian

Downing Street's secrecy over its "underwhelming" Brexit proposals has caused a fresh rupture in the negotiations in Brussels.
The UK government demands that the EU treat a cache of documents outlining its latest ideas as "Her Majesty's government property" and not distribute them to EU27 delegates. EU officials say all proposals need to be available for analysis in EU27 capitals if talks are to progress.
There is despair in Brussels at the state of the talks, with the latest ideas seen as "more of the same" from Downing Street.

2019 September 19

Modern War

P.W. Singer

In the dead of night, a swarm of robotic planes sneaks past a billion-dollar defense system and then takes out one of the world's most valuable targets in a fiery blast.
Much remains uncertain about the raid on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia on Saturday that shut down half the country's oil output. But the attack points to big changes in the technology of war and its consequences.
Dozens of nations have cruise missiles and armed drones. Those numbers will continue to grow as more sellers like China introduce the technology into the world arms market.
Hezbollah in Lebanon flew drones into Israel in 2004. The Islamic State operated hundreds of drones in Iraq and Syria. And the Houthi have used drones to attack Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates many times since 2015.
The biggest threat to an oil field, airport, or aircraft carrier may be from small, disposable drones. Small nations and nonstate actors can strike back, so the promise of easy wars fought from afar without consequences is even more false than it was in the past.


Capitalism is Rigged

Martin Wolf

As well as slowing productivity growth, soaring inequality, and huge financial shocks, we are seeing the rise of rentier capitalism.
Rent is reward over and above ideal market levels. Rentier capitalism is an economy in which market and political power allows privileged individuals and businesses to extract a great deal of such rent from everybody else.
Globalization in the form of foreign trade and offshoring has not been a large contributor to rising inequality. Trade policies do not explain bilateral or overall balances. The economic impact of immigration has also been small and frequently positive.
We need to look at rentier capitalism. A fast-growing financial sector is detrimental to aggregate productivity growth. When the financial sector grows, it hires talented people, who then lend against property, because it generates collateral. This is a diversion of talented human resources in unproductive, useless directions.
Increased financial activity has not raised the growth of productivity. The same is true of the raised pay of corporate management. Management pay linked to the share price makes a huge incentive to raise that price by manipulating earnings or borrowing money to buy the shares. Neither adds value to the company.
Competition has declined. Widening gaps in productivity and profits between the leading businesses and the rest suggest weakening competition and rising monopoly rent. A great deal of the increase in inequality arises from different rewards for workers with similar skills in different firms.
In winner-take-all markets, superstar individuals and their companies earn monopoly rents, because they can now serve global markets. The network externalities and zero marginal costs of platform monopolies are the dominant examples.
Successful metropolitan areas attract and reward talented people. This disadvantages businesses and people trapped elsewhere. Big cities also create rents in property prices and in earnings.
Monopoly rent can be the result of policy. The idea that consumer welfare should be the sole objective of antitrust policy led to complacency. The monopoly rent we see in leading economies is not a sign of creative destruction, because there is not much creative destruction.
Corporations and shareholders benefit from the public goods provided by liberal democracies. They also exploit tax loopholes. The main challenges within the corporate tax system are tax competition and base erosion and profit shifting. We see the former in falling tax rates. We see the latter in the location of intellectual property in tax havens and in rigging transfer prices within firms.
US corporations report seven times as much profit in small tax havens as in six big economies. They make rents by lobbying against regulations on tax avoidance, mergers, anti-competitive practices, financial misbehavior, the environment, and labor markets. Corporate lobbying overwhelms the interests of ordinary citizens.
Corporate leaders need to reflect on all this. They must consider the public arena.

AR We need rentier populism — basic unconditional income for everyone.

2019 September 18

Lib Dem Vision

The Times

In her first speech to the Liberal Democrat conference as party leader, Jo Swinson said: "I am standing here as your candidate for prime minister. Because people across Britain deserve a better choice than an entitled Etonian or a 1970s socialist."
She has not ruled out doing a deal with either party but suggested that her price could be the head of their party leaders. She said a Lib Dem government would introduce a wellbeing budget, with a happiness minister and an office to measure and monitor wellbeing.
Swinson: "We have been conditioned to believe that as long as GDP keeps growing, everything is fine. But this ignores the reality behind the numbers, that the social contract is broken, that working hard and playing by the rules is no longer enough to guarantee a better life."


Law and Politics

Daniel Finkelstein

Boris Johnson's decision to prorogue parliament was wrong and unwise.
The hearings taking place in front of the UK supreme court this week may be historic. They may mark the moment Britain stopped being a political democracy restrained by law and became instead a legal democracy tempered by politics.
The UK has always been a parliamentary democracy with nothing above its political decision makers. The representatives of the people decide.
The United States starts with the law, established by the constitution. The courts can strike down laws made by the representatives of the people.
The UK is moving toward the US settlement. The supreme court hearing could be the decisive step from one system to the other.


Black Hole Tones

New Scientist

A black hole can be described in full by three properties: its mass, its spin, and its electrical charge. All other information, like the properties of the objects that have fallen into it, is hidden beyond the event horizon.
When a pair of black holes merge, the new black hole should ring like a bell, emitting gravitational waves at several frequencies. The frequencies of its waves are determined by its mass and rotation. The frequencies include a fundamental and overtones.
An MIT team found an overtone in a gravitational wave signal detected by LIGO in 2015. The mass and spin of the black hole had already been calculated by the LIGO team. The MIT team used just the overtone to confirm that the black hole mass is about 68 ⦿ and it spins at about 100 Hz.

AR Einstein wins again.

2019 September 17

A Big Bounce

Rachel Sylvester

The Liberal Democrats base their resurgence on the party returning to a position of equidistance between Labour and Conservative. They now have a clear positive identity as the party of Remain.
Nobody really believes that Jo Swinson could soon be prime minister, but the Lib Dems are on a roll. They won more than 700 council seats in May and came second in the European elections. Despite being smashed at the 2017 general election, they are now polling at 18% and have 18 MPs. Lib Dems could end up holding the balance of power in a hung parliament.
Lib Dem MP Chuka Umunna: "To be a Remainer is not only to be an advocate of our continued membership of the European Union, it is to hold a set of liberal, internationalist values."


A Big Supernova

Robin Andrews

A billion years ago, something erupted with a fury that outshone entire galaxies. In 2016, the light from that cataclysm was captured by the ESA satellite Gaia. The glowing ember is still visible.
Supernova 2016iet was once a star of 120 to 260 solar masses (⦿) and was found in an area lacking in metals. As a primordial star, it was among the first beacons that lit up the universe and ended the dark ages. They made the metals that helped create future generations of stars.
In any star, gravity presses inward and thermonuclear burning in its core presses outward. In a supermassive star, the very hot core makes many matter-antimatter pairs. Energy is used to make them, so gravity shrinks the star. It contracts violently and the core flares up. In one pulse, nuclear burning blows the star apart. The entire star is obliterated, and nothing is left to form a black hole.
If a star has a slightly lower total mass, it contracts but burns less hot. The star bounces back, shedding a giant shell of matter moving at millions of meters per second. The process repeats over time. Newly ejected shells collide with older shells, producing enormous bursts of light. Eventually, so much mass is lost that the star dies to form a black hole.
This is known as a pulsational pair-instability supernova. To make one, the original star must have at least 90 ⦿. A full-blast pair-instability supernova requires a star whose original mass was 140 ⦿. SN 2016iet could fit either story.


A Big Pulsar


Astronomers have detected the most massive neutron star ever, dubbed J0740+6620, just 4,600 light years away. It is a millisecond pulsar.
Neutron stars are the leftover remnants of supernovas. The newly detected neutron star has a diameter of 25 km and a mass of 2.2 ⦿. This is close to the limit when it falls into a black hole.
J0740+6620 has a white dwarf companion star that warps the space around both stars and allows mass measurements via the relativistic Shapiro delay in the pulsar signal.

A very massive neutron star

2019 September 16

US "Locked and Loaded"

The New York Times

The Trump administration points to Iran as the likely agent of attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities. Officials cite intelligence assessments to support the accusation. A combination of drones and cruise missiles may have been used, beyond the ability of Houthi rebels.
Donald Trump tweeted: "Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting .."


Johnson−Juncker Grudge Match

BBC News, 1605 BST

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had lunch with UK prime minister Boris Johnson in Luxembourg. The EU says the UK has yet to come forward with a solution to replace the backstop. Johnson says he will not request an extension and will take the UK out of the EU on 31 October.
Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel: "We need written proposals and the time is ticking, so stop speaking and act. But we won't accept any agreement that goes against a single market."


EU Sinks UK Hulk

The Guardian

European officials were not amused when Boris Johnson compared himself to the Incredible Hulk prior to going to Luxembourg for Brexit talks. Johnson said he was poised to break free of the EU "manacles" and cited: "The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets."
Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: "Even to Trumpian standards the Hulk comparison is infantile. Is the EU supposed to be scared by this?"


Resolving Brexit

Vince Cable

Liberal Democrats will campaign to cancel Brexit by revoking Article 50. Following a general election, should our party win a majority, that would be a sufficient mandate to revoke.
Lib Dems would need to go from 17 to 325 seats. But LDs have been victims of the FPTP electoral system in every election since WW2. On a proportional basis, LDs should have had around 45 MPs rather than 12 in 2017. Once the vote share rises, dramatic things happen under FPTP, and LDs make disproportionate gains.
With hundreds of LD seats in the Commons, we could close down the Brexit issue and overhaul UK constitutional arrangements in a democratic revolution.

AR Liberals were a force for progress in the 19th and 20th century UK. They can be again.

2019 September 15

Lib Dems Will Cancel Brexit

BBC News, 1700 BST

At their annual party conference in Bournemouth today, the Liberal Democrats pledged to cancel Brexit if they come to power at the next general election. Members voted for the policy by an overwhelming majority. Party leader Jo Swinson: "We will do all we can to fight for our place in Europe and to stop Brexit altogether."

AR Lib Dems get my vote, no question.


Global Finance

Niall Ferguson

In China, people pay with their phones, using systems made by Alibaba and Tencent. This way to pay is spreading around the world. It could be bigger than Chinese dominance of 5G telecom networks.
Since 1971, the US dollar has been the #1 currency. American policymakers have grown used to exploiting it as a lever of foreign policy. This power has grown irksome to other large economies.
China is building a global payments infrastructure. America could let this process continue until the day comes when the Chinese connect their digital platforms into one global system.
Or America could wake up and start competing for dominance in digital payments. A short cut to a system to rival Alibaba and Tencent is Libra. This would be a digital currency in the Chinese style.
The US Treasury is opposed to Libra and the Fed is skeptical. From a national security perspective, Americans need to compete with the Chinese before they dominate digital payments globally.
Libra would be a kind of dollar substitute, reducing international demand for dollars. But it would not offer an alternative to Treasury bonds, so it would not reduce the global demand for those.
Power is inseparable from financial power. The country that leads in financial innovation leads. Lose that financial leadership and you lose your place as global hegemon.

2019 September 14

The Universe Is Not Boxed

Julian Barbour

The laws of physics suggest there is no distinguished direction of time. If a system has either zero energy or positive energy, as time goes on, the size of the system will grow to infinity in both directions, with one point where the size is at its minimum. This may relate to the arrow of time.
When thinking about a system of objects in the real universe, the background universe defines your direction of time. You say the system went through minimal size and then it grew again, into the future. But if this is a toy model of the whole universe, there is no background arrow. We have a uniform distribution of particles in the middle and a more structured distribution in both directions away from it.
In a toy model universe, there are two directions of time from that central Janus point. Observers inside this universe would think time begins back at the Janus point, and they are going forward to the future away from it. Then there would be another universe on the other side where time is going in the other direction.
This can resolve the mystery of how the laws can be symmetric, but you see a direction. The overall solution is completely symmetric, but because observers can only be on one side or the other, they see things asymmetrically.
Consider thermodynamics. In a steam engine, the steam is in a cylinder in a box. Then statistical mechanics led to the discovery of entropy, and with it the mystery of the arrow of time.
People who work on this problem of the arrow of time still assume conditions that work for a steam engine. The entropy of the universe tends to a maximum, and the universe is evolving toward a heat death. We have to think out of the box.
The evolution of the universe starts from a quantum Big Bang, inflates for a while, then forms stars and galaxies, and finally leads to life on the Earth and so on. This goes counter to the idea that entropy increases inexorably.
Instead of saying the universe started in an ordered state and has been getting disordered ever since, we say the universe starts in the most disordered way possible and has been getting ever more interesting. Maybe the universe in some senses will die, but in a very beautiful form.
Certain mathematical theorems said that when in the past you had steam in a box, the steam originally in a small corner of the box spread out through the box. But with no box, the steam can take a more interesting shape. In space there is no box.

AR This resonates with my own dissident thoughts on universal entropy and universal closure, as aired respectively in About Time (2006) and Omniscience (2019).

2019 September 13

Brexit Labour Showdown

Jim Pickard

Labour is set for a fresh Brexit showdown at its annual conference. Some senior figures are pushing for a clear Remain position. But aides close to party leader Jeremy Corbyn say adopting a Remain stance could alienate millions of voters.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell says Labour must pledge to hold a referendum almost immediately. His view is likely to be backed by much of the membership, many MPs, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, and deputy leader Tom Watson.


Brexit Disaster Capitalism

Byline Times

If Boris Johnson takes the UK out of the EU on 31 October, his backers stand to make billions out of the disaster.
When he became prime minister, many of the donations he received were from hedge funds and people he worked with on the Vote Leave campaign in 2016.
Between January to May 2019, hedge funds were taking out fewer than 10 short positions per week. But when Johnson announced he was running for the leadership, the number of short positions rose. By the time his victory was announced, it was around 100 per week.
Currently, £8.3 billion of short positions has been taken out by hedge funds on a no-deal Brexit. The firms involved are mostly those that donated to the Vote Leave campaign and took short positions on the referendum result.
The prime minister has a conflict of interest when those bankrolling him stand to gain from a Brexit disaster.


A Watery Exoplanet

New Scientist

About 110 light years away is a planet twice as big as Earth with water vapour in its atmosphere. It may be the best place we have yet seen to look for alien life.
Astronomers observed planet K2-18b as it passed in front of its star so that light shone through the atmosphere. They found signs of water vapor.
K2-18b is also in the habitable zone around its star, defined as the area where it could maintain liquid water on its surface without the water freezing or boiling away.
K2-18b probably has a rocky core but is mostly gaseous, says Laura Kreidberg: “The jury is still out on whether a planet like this could be habitable. If there were life there, it definitely wouldn’t be like life as we know it on Earth.”

Water Vapor on the Habitable-Zone Exoplanet K2-18b
Björn Benneke et al.

We report the detection of water vapor and the likely presence of liquid water clouds in the atmosphere of the 8.6 Earth-mass habitable-zone planet K2-18b. With a 33-day orbit around a cool M3 dwarf, K2-18b receives virtually the same amount of total radiation from its host star as the Earth receives from the Sun, making it a good candidate to host liquid water clouds.

Arrowhead frigate

Royal Navy Type 31 Frigates

The British Royal Navy's five planned low-cost Arrowhead 140 Type 31E frigates will have a length of 140 m,
a displacement of about 3−4 Gg, a range of 17 Mm, and a top speed of 15 m/s.
Each ship will be armed with a Wildcat helicopter, a 127 mm main gun, 40 mm guns, and a 32-cell VLS rapid-fire launch system
for AA and AS missiles. Four large boat bays will be capable of deploying RHIBs, USVs, and UUVs, and the ship will be able to
accommodate 60 troops beside its crew.
Babcock will build the ships at its Rosyth Dockyard in Scotland, to the baseline design of the
Iver Huitfeldt frigate in service with the Royal Danish Navy, at a unit cost of £250 million.

Red bus
Operation Yellowhammer
original document

Something Deeply Hidden
"I was overwhelmed
by tears of joy."
Scott Aaronson

Palace of Westminster
Dark days

Amber Rudd
⦿ Francesco Guidicini
"I am resigning as Secretary of
State for Work and Pensions ..
I am also surrendering the
Conservative whip."
Amber Rudd

Dorset for Europe

55 days


2019 September 12

European Commission: VdL Speaks

The Times

European Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen is convinced the UK will not crash out of the EU without a deal: "It's not in the common interests either of the UK or EU and will be way more difficult than an orderly Brexit."


European Parliament: MEP Veto

Daniel Boffey

A European Parliament resolution due for next week complains that the UK government "insists that the backstop must be removed from the withdrawal agreement but has not until now put forward legally operable proposals that could replace it" and states EU "readiness to revert to a Northern Ireland-only backstop" but says the EP "will not give consent to a withdrawal agreement without a backstop" in order to protect Ireland.
The resolution questions "how close the future EU/UK economic relationship can be" unless the UK signs up to "high levels of environmental, employment and consumer protections" and warns "any free-trade agreement that fails to respect such levels of protection would not be ratified" by the EP.
The resolution criticizes HM Government's hostile environment for EU citizens living in the UK.


Quantum Gravity

Sean Carroll

The standard approach to developing a quantum description of a phenomenon is to start with a classical description and then quantize it. That unnatural approach has failed again and again for gravity and spacetime. The real world is quantum from the start, and the classical world emerges as an approximation.
Our current best physical theory is quantum field theory, in which the basic ingredients are fields. Elementary particles are vibrations in fields stretching through space.
In a classical approximation, we can specify the value of a field by dividing space into tiny voxels and listing the field value in each voxel. In a quantum field theory, the values of the field in the voxels can be entangled with each other. There is quantum uncertainty about the value we measure at a voxel, but entanglement means the value we get at one voxel affects what we get at other voxels.
In the vacuum state of a quantum field theory, the entanglement between fields in different regions is directly tied to the distance between them, and so to the geometry of spacetime.
We can start with a quantum state and work backwards to extract spacetime from entanglement. We can define distance as (inversely) related to entanglement. A quantum state gives us the distance between any two parts of it, so it defines a geometry on an emergent space.
A quantum state exists at each moment of time, so at best it can define the geometry of space at that moment. We want to extend this to 4D spacetime.
We start with abstract quantum degrees of freedom. These are quantities that can take on different values. In field theory, they are the values and rates of change of the fields. The degrees of freedom are basic, and they are entangled with each other. Defining the area surrounding a region as the entanglement of its degrees of freedom with the outside world gives a geometry that obeys general relativity.
Now consider a quantum system consisting of two subsystems: a clock and everything else. Let the system evolve through time, take a series of moments, and add together all the specific quantum states at all the moments.
This gives you a new super-state, a superposition of individual states with specific clock readings and specific configurations of everything else. The clock is entangled with the rest of the world. If we measure the clock to read it, the rest of the system snaps instantly into the quantum state the original system had at that time.
Time can emerge inside an eternal quantum state. If you are a clock subsystem entangled with the rest of the universe in the right way, the clock ticks your life.

AR This seems promising. I'm eager to read Sean's book. By the way, his degrees of freedom are my qubits. Reality pops out from qubits.

2019 September 11

Scottish Judges Rule Prorogation Unlawful

BBC News, 1202 BST

Boris Johnson's suspension of the UK parliament is unlawful, Scotland's highest civil court has ruled. The judges said the prime minister was attempting to prevent parliament holding the government to account ahead of Brexit: "The Court will accordingly make an Order declaring that the prime minister's advice to HM the Queen and the prorogation which followed thereon was unlawful and is thus null and of no effect."
HM Government said it will appeal against the ruling to the Supreme Court in London.


Quantum Probability

Sean Carroll

Quantum mechanics has rules governing what happens when systems are measured. Measurement outcomes are predicted with the Born rule saying the wave function assigns an amplitude to each measurement outcome, and the probability of getting that result is equal to the amplitude squared. Quantum theory leans on the idea of probability.
There are two views of probability. The objective or physical view treats it as a fundamental feature of a system. The subjective or evidential view treats it as a reflection of personal credence, or degree of belief. Bayesian probability specifies how to update our credences as we get new information.
Quantum theory describes the state of a system in terms of a wave function, which evolves smoothly and deterministically according to the Schrödinger equation. But when the system is being observed, the wave function suddenly collapses into some particular observational outcome. The collapse itself is unpredictable. This is the measurement problem.
The many-worlds theory says the wave function obeys Schrödinger's equation, but there are no collapses and no additional variables. The equation predicts what happens when an observer measures a quantum object in a superposition of states. The combined system of observer and object evolves into an entangled superposition. In each part of the superposition, the object has a definite measured outcome. Each part of the system then evolves separately as a new world.
We suffer self-locating or indexical uncertainty. As you are about to measure a quantum system, the wave function branches into different worlds, with two people, one on each branch, both descended from you. Even if they know the wave function of the universe, they don't know which branch of the wave function they are on.
There is a period of time after branching before the observers find out what outcome was obtained on their branch. This ignorance is self-locating uncertainty. The wave function branches on timescales of a zeptosecond or less, so at first you're on a branch but don't know which one.
The credence you should attach to being on a branch of the wave function is the amplitude squared for that branch. By epistemic separability, whatever predictions you make, they should be unaltered if we only change the wave function for separate parts of the system.
Self-locating uncertainty is a new kind of epistemic uncertainty. You can know everything there is to know about the universe and yet still be uncertain about where you are within it. Your uncertainty obeys the usual rules of probability.

AR Indexical probability pertains to who you are, or to how you realize yourself as you keep popping those qubits.

2019 September 10

JoBo Fired

CNN, 1639 UTC

Trump tweet: "I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning .. I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week."


Parliament Bo-Rogued

The Guardian

The UK parliament was prorogued in the early hours after midnight to extraordinary scenes of chaos and anger in the House of Commons as opposition MPs staged a protest.
Earlier in the day, House speaker John Bercow announced his intention to resign before October 31 in order to allow his successor to be chosen by parliament before the next election.
An evening of high drama saw Boris Johnson lose his sixth parliamentary vote in six days. MPs rejected for a second time his call for an October 15 election, with 293 votes for and 46 against. Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, at least 434 votes are needed.
As Bercow began formal proceedings to prorogue parliament, a group of opposition MPs carrying signs reading "silenced" drowned out Black Rod when she tried to enact the traditional ritual.
Bercow: "[This prorogation] is not typical. It is not standard. It's one of the longest for decades and it represents, not just in the minds of many colleagues, but huge numbers of people outside, an act of executive fiat."
Several MPs were also involved in altercation near the speaker's chair, as they attempted to prevent him leaving his seat and attending the House of Lords, the next step in the formalities required for the suspension of parliament.
Alex Sobel MP: "[The action] echoes the action of members to try and prevent the speaker proroguing at the request of Charles I."
While Bercow completed the formalities in the House of Lords, opposition MPs sung songs, including the Red Flag, Jerusalem, Scots Wha Hae, and Bread of Heaven (in Welsh, with harmonies).


Voice of Reason

The Times

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson: "We would cancel [Brexit] by revoking Article 50 and remaining in the European Union."

AR Hear, hear.

2019 September 9

Brexit News

The Guardian

MPs have passed by 311 votes to 302 a motion requiring the release of Operation Yellowhammer planning documents, as well as private messages from No 10 officials about prorogation. The government seems unlikely to comply. This was Boris Johnson's fourth main defeat in a Commons vote since he became prime minister.

Edited extracts from Jeremy Corbyn's parliamentary speeches today:
I hope the prime minister will live up to the office that he holds, accept the decisions made in parliament, and carry out the wishes of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No 6) Act to ensure that an application is made to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU on the 31 October.
No 10 has briefed that the PM will defy the law, so until the government has abided by that law, I don't believe there will be a majority in this house for what the PM is proposing later today under the Fixed-term Parliament Act.
The fact that parliament is compelled to pass a law to ensure the will of parliament is upheld shows what extraordinary times we now live in. The house has rejected no-deal, businesses and trade unions are united in rejecting no-deal, and there is no majority for it across the country.
We are not at war. The prime minister is obsessed with hyperbole and aggressive language. We're supposed to be having negotiations with our European partners.

2019 September 8

Quantum Mechanics

Sean Carroll

QM is a successful theory. But we don't understand it.
QM seems to require separate rules for how quantum objects behave when we're not looking at them, and how they behave when they are being observed. When we're not looking, they exist in superpositions of different possibilities, such as being at any one of various locations in space. But when we look, they suddenly snap into just a single location, and that's where we see them. We can't predict exactly what that location will be; the best we can do is calculate the probability of different outcomes.
We describe a quantum object in terms of a wave function, which collects the superposition of all the possible measurement outcomes into a single mathematical object. When they're not being observed, wave functions evolve according to the Schrödinger equation.
QM is the most fundamental theory we have, sitting squarely at the center of every serious attempt to formulate deep laws of nature. If nobody understands quantum mechanics, nobody understands the universe.
Gravity doesn't fit with QM. We need to understand why.

AR Quantum objects are emergent phenomena. They emerge from constellations of qubits. We pop qubits to make bits, which pixelate an emergent spacetime landscape of objects.
Qubits are generally entangled with each other. When we pop qubits, we pop all the others entangled with them together. In this discrete procedure, a bounded classical landscape grows out around our latest popping.
Spacetime inflates around us as a quantized causal network. We step forward through a dialectic of epistemology and ontology that defines our reality as a landscape populated by the particles and forces of the Standard Model.
Our causal bubbles — our mindworlds — get bigger as we pop ever more qubits. We evolve in lockstep with our bubbles and are embodied in them as bit structures.
This works for me — so long as I ignore the math!

2019 September 7

The Purge

Max Hastings

Boris Johnson may prove able to form another government. But the Conservative party as we have known it will be gone. Absent the purged moderates, it will become a thing apart, repugnant to millions of British voters who see that government must be conducted on the centre ground.
For half a century, division over Europe has been a poison seeping into the party. Conservatives took Britain into Europe in 1973 and have kept it there ever since. Leavers blame the EU for every national difficulty, yet none of the big problems Britain faces has anything to do with Europe.
Boris Johnson is laying waste to the Conservative party as we have known it. He offers the British people a budget of falsehoods and unfulfillable promises. We should not delude ourselves that what is taking place represents any sort of normality or acceptable political process.


The Twilight Zone

Marina Hyde

The Tory episiotomy on Europe went septic this week as Boris Johnson expelled 21 MPs, lost his own brother, and gave a speech so bad it whiteyed a policewoman.
Despite practising since boyhood, Boris Johnson's entire demeanour is that of a man who has won a competition to lead the country for a day. For a prime minister, his shtick is bizarre and juddering. Oratorically, his PMQs debut merits a mere five-word review: "Welcome to the Commons, bitch."
Thursday afternoon found Johnson at a Yorkshire police academy, where he appeared deeply confused. Having very belatedly taken the stage, he proceeded to die on his arse in front of rows of police officers. Perhaps terror prevented him from assisting the faint policewoman. He chose instead to gibber out the last of his prepared lines, and the bulletins duly led with his claim that he'd "rather be dead in a ditch" than delay Brexit.
Was it worth it? Did we want three years of political paralysis, a toxic public realm, bitter family rows, and no prospect of national healing just to watch this monster reap his own whirlwind, live on telly, in a horrifyingly hilarious cautionary tale about getting everything you always wanted? No.


The End

Fareed Zakaria

The Conservative and Unionist Party has a long and honorable tradition. Like most enduring parties, the Tories have embraced many different factions and ideas over the years. But in the postwar era, they advocated free markets and traditional values.
We are living now in a new era, one defined by a divide between a world of greater openness in trade, technology, and migration and one of barriers, protections, and restraints. Parties of the future will likely be positioned along this new spectrum.
All of Britain's previous five prime ministers were in favor of the UK staying in the EU. By contrast, Boris Johnson is remaking the Tories into the party of Brexit. Many Brexiteers are staunch free marketeers, yet they want the UK to crash out of the EU.
The people who voted for Brexit largely embrace a closed ideology. They are suspicious of foreigners and resentful of the new, cosmopolitan Britain they see in London and other big cities. They want less immigration and are more rural, more traditional, older and whiter, and they want a return to their childhood.
The CUP is cracking.

AR Thanks to Boris the crackpot.

2019 September 6

Lords Approve No No Deal

The Guardian, 1724 BST

The bill to stop Boris Johnson taking the UK out of the EU on 31 October without a Brexit agreement has cleared the House of Lords. It is set to become law on Monday when it gets royal assent. The bill cleared all its stages in the Lords in two days, with no amendments. The bill gives MPs recourse to the courts if Johnson refuses to request an extension.


No Election Before Delay

BBC News, 1311 BST

UK opposition parties have agreed not to back Boris Johnson's demand for a general election before the EU summit on October 17. Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, and Plaid Cymru say they will vote against the government or abstain in Monday's vote on whether to hold a snap poll. They want to make sure the UK does not "crash out" in a no-deal Brexit.


"Dead in a Ditch"

The Times

At a speech to police cadets yesterday, Boris Johnson said he would rather "be dead in a ditch" than ask the EU to delay Brexit. Downing Street had briefed in the morning that it would be the first day of an election campaign.
The prime minister made a chaotic campaigning debut and was harangued in the street. One member of the public accused him of playing games when he should be in Brussels negotiating, and another said: "Please leave my town."
Police spokesmen called his decision to give a political speech in front of student police officers in Yorkshire wrong and inappropriate. Johnson's rambling speech heightened Conservative fears over an election campaign.

Q Can you comment on your promise to never seek a Brexit delay from the EU?
Boris Johnson: Yes, I can. I'd rather be dead in a ditch. What on Earth is the point of further delay? I think it's totally, totally pointless.
I hate banging on about Brexit. I don't want to go about this anymore. I don't want an election at all, but frankly I cannot see any other way. The only way to get this thing done, to get this thing moving, is to make that decision.
Do you want this government to take us out on 31 October or do you want Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party to go to that crucial summit in Brussels on 17 October, effectively hand over control to the EU and keep us in beyond 31 October?
That's the reality of what we face.

AR The reality is a government determined to do the wrong thing.


Amazon Fires Shame Us

Rowan Williams

The scale of the devastation caused by the wildfires still raging in the Amazon is hard to comprehend. This is a rainforest that provides one-fifth of the world's oxygen.
But it is also a human tragedy. The survival and wellbeing of those who call the rainforest home should take precedence over the drive for development that serves only a lust for consumption and convenience.
For generations, the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin have been the stewards of the forests. Their rights have been overridden in the face of the greed of various powerful economic interests.
The wildfires raging in the Amazon are a visible metaphor for the effect of our unrestrained passion for limitless economic growth.

AR We should live in solidarity with all life on Earth.

Amazon fires

⦿ Ueslei Marcelino / REUTER
Amazon wildfires: As I watch Prime Minister's Questions on BBC News TV, I see that the Westminster parliament
is utterly and hopelessly incapable of debating the serious issues that would confront a sovereign rogue state,
as the UK would become if its separation from the EU became final on Halloween.

"In recent weeks I've been
torn between family loyalty
and the national interest —
it's an unresolvable tension
and time for others to
take on my roles as
MP and Minister."
Jo Johnson
(brother of Boris)

Behind bars
⦿ Daniel Leal-Olivas
Behind bars: Dom Cummings,
Boris Johnson

No No
⦿ Tolga Akmen

⦿ Axel Schmidt
Protesters in Berlin

Bugatti Chiron
A Bugatti Chiron driven by
Andy Wallace sets 304 mph
record on German test
track, powered by
1578 bhp motor

Deutsche Landtagswahl









BAF 2019

My photos


2019 September 5

Fever Dream

Philip Stephens

This week the vulgar swagger of Boris Johnson's short premiership collided with reality. A politician accustomed to lying and cheating was defeated in the Commons.
Johnson has thrown the Conservative party overboard. In his anxiety to outflank the Brexit party, he will fight an election as leader of the party of English nationalism.
The prime minister wants to frame a general election as a contest between parliament and the people. Anyone who thinks Britain should not be wrenched out of Europe by October 31 is a collaborator. The Europeans are the enemy.
Johnson championed the sovereignty of the Westminster parliament. He now claims a higher authority as the tribune of the will of the people. This way lies authoritarianism.
Reason has fled from the European argument. The minimum requirements for a sustainable settlement are the removal of Johnson and another referendum.


Poisoned Apple

The Guardian

Boris Johnson's bid to trigger a general election next month is blocked by MPs following a string of heavy defeats for the government in both houses of parliament.
Jeremy Corbyn said he would back the call for a snap poll only once Hilary Benn's backbench bill to block a no-deal Brexit has received royal assent, which could happen early next week if it is not scuppered by Tory peers.
Corbyn said Johnson's proposal for a 15 October poll was "a bit like the offer of an apple to Snow White by the wicked queen" and added: "Let this bill pass and gain royal assent: then we will back a general election."
Johnson calls Benn's bill "Corbyn's surrender bill" and says "the country must decide" whether he or Corbyn go to Brussels for the EU summit on 17 October.


Lords Guillotine

The Guardian

The House of Lords has agreed overnight to get the Benn bill through all stages of parliament before it is suspended next week. Around 1.30 am Thursday, following late-night debate, peers said a Conservative filibuster had been averted by a guillotine and the bill can be returned to the Commons by 5 pm Friday.


Clown Prince

John Crace

There was an air of expectancy on the Tory benches as Boris Johnson prepared to face his first prime minister's questions.
Within minutes, it was clear we were heading toward yet another shitshow. We got an excruciating unravelling of the narcissistic ego in which Johnson exposed his tired routine. Corbyn was Caracas! It hadn't been funny when he'd first made the gag three years previously. The opposition was shit! Corbyn was a big girl's blouse!
Johnson waffled when Corbyn pressed him about the Brexit negotiations. This was all on a need to know basis. And not even he needed to know. You never negotiate in public. And apparently not in private, either. In any case, Corbyn was trying to undermine him by taking no deal off the table.
Corbyn replied it was hard to undermine something that wasn't taking place. Johnson was making Corbyn look like a statesman in command of his brief.
It was downhill for Johnson from there. Come the end, he was desperate to leave.


Cunning Plan

Jenni Russell

Boris Johnson was lying when he said he was being pushed into calling an election. He wants an early election he can deny seeking.
Johnson had to look like the champion of no deal. The tactic was to frame him as squeezed between MPs and Europe. He had to push parliament into blocking no deal and push Europe into opposing a new deal.
But the plan went wrong. The Conservative rebellion was bigger than expected, undeterred by the threats of deselection. And Jeremy Corbyn did not fall into the trap of an instant election but instead insisted the Benn bill first become law.
Johnson is now marooned, majority gone, election blocked, and looking incompetent. But his team is bullish about securing an election within weeks. They will hammer the message that they need the mandate to deliver Brexit.
Johnson is polling a third of the vote, yet on current forecasts that will win him a decent majority because the opposition is split.

AR Time for tactical voting.

2019 September 4

No Quick Election

BBC News, 2136 BST

MPs voted by 298 to 56 (well over the required 2/3 majority) to deny Boris Johnson an election until the Brexit delay bill voted earlier becomes law.


No No Deal Again

BBC News, 1720 BST

MPs voted to approve the Brexit delay bill at the second reading by 329 votes to 300.
Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay: "The public want Brexit delivered, the business community wants certainty. This bill will leave our negotiations in purgatory with a third extension after more than three years. This is a Bill that is intended to stop Brexit. I urge my colleagues to oppose it."
The bill now goes into the committee stage, then to the Lords.

AR Get the bill into law this week. Stop Brexit.


Night of the Long Knives

The Times

Boris Johnson lost control of Brexit last night. He cannot even carry out his threat of calling a snap election after suffering a humiliating defeat in his first Commons vote.
His government has followed through on his threat to strip the whip from the 21 Conservative rebels, including 9 former cabinet ministers, 2 former chancellors, and Sir Winston Churchill's grandson Sir Nicholas Soames.
Opposition parties and Tory rebels will today move to pass a bill forcing the government to ask the EU for a further extension to prevent a no-deal exit on October 31.
Johnson says he will move to call an election in mid-October under the 2011 Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which requires a two-thirds majority to call an election. But Labour will block the move until today's bill becomes law.
After the defeat last night, Tory whips phoned the rebels to bar them from standing as Tory candidates. The government is now 43 votes short of a majority.

AR Boris will die hard. Don't miss the final bunker scene.


Government Defeated

The Telegraph

Today's front-page headlines from the newspaper that supports and promotes Boris Johnson by paying him extravagantly to publish his regular columns of ill-considered piffle:
 Boris Johnson demands election after rebels seize control of Commons agenda
 Day of the Remainer purge How Dominic Cummings ranted at Tory rebels in Downing Street
 The mood was as sour as old milk. In a raging Commons, the Tories tore themselves apart
 We face indefinite paralysis unless the PM calls an election by any means possible
 Brexit has driven us all a bit mad, but this lot are seriously barking!
 This is one of the most seismic political realignments in history. The Tories had better be careful
 Britain needs a general election

AR Let's hope this outpouring of malodorous hysteria heralds the end of the revolt of the Europhobic Tory pensioners against reason and good governance.


Democratic Crisis

Aditya Chakrabortty

Britain is mired in a democratic crisis. Its post-democratic order is a spectacle managed by teams of experts in marketing, where the interests of multinationals and big businesses trump those of ordinary people.
The political classes need to show what use they are to the public. That means providing advice to voters on practical matters in classes on how politics and economics work. Britain needs a democratic renewal.

AR In a functioning democracy, the electorate needs to be well informed.


Utter Chaos

Dominic Sandbrook

A general election now seems a certainty. Voters will face a choice between Boris Johnson and a probable no-deal Brexit, and Jeremy Corbyn and an extreme left-wing government.
To outsiders, all this must look like utter chaos. The choice facing Britain is the strong possibility of chaos on the one hand and the absolute certainty of it on the other.

AR Divisive politics, without proportional voting or coalitions, confronts voters with impossibly hard choices. This is UK democratic dysfunction in action.

2019 September 3

No No Deal

BBC News, 2210 BST

MPs passed the motion that "the House has considered the matter of the need to take all necessary steps to ensure that the United Kingdom does not leave the European Union on 31 October 2019 without a withdrawal agreement" by 328 votes to 301.
The motion enables MPs to bring forward a bill to make it illegal for the UK to leave the EU on October 31 without a deal.


The Pantomime Will End

Rafael Behr

Boris Johnson says demands to rule out no deal make it harder to negotiate in Brussels because EU leaders will compromise only when they see the UK is beyond reason. Talks are not progressing in Brussels because the UK is not negotiating.
Johnson is lying to the public in a cycle of mutually reinforcing delusion. Like all theatrical performances, it works by suspension of disbelief. But EU critics can see the artifice and are waiting for the moment when the pantomime ends.


The Awkward Fact

Daniel Finkelstein

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson spoke for many: "Jeremy Corbyn? Absolutely not."
Her position rules out a temporary government. As the leader of the opposition, Corbyn will not accept a government led by someone else.
This is the awkward fact.


No Majority

BBC News, 1557 BST

Conservative MP Philip Lee has defected to the Liberal Democrats. His defection, hours before a showdown between Boris Johnson and Conservative party rebels over Brexit, cuts the government's working majority in the Commons to zero.
Lee: "This Conservative government is aggressively pursuing a damaging Brexit in unprincipled ways .. I am dismayed at what the Conservative party has become .. I will not implicitly condone these things by being party to them."

AR Lee defected while Johnson addressed the Commons with such shamefully ill-chosen words as "collaborator" and "surrender" in relation to our friends and partners in Europe.



The Times

UK prime minister Boris Johnson threatens to deselect Conservative rebels who vote against the government tonight.
Former justice secretary David Gauke will rebel: "In the end, the national interest must come first."
Former chancellor Philip Hammond will too: "This is my party .. I am going to defend my party against incomers, entryists trying to turn it from a broad church into a narrow faction."
Former education secretary Justine Greening will too: "My concerns about the Conservative party becoming the Brexit party have come to pass."
Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd: "We should not be .. trying to remove from our party two former chancellors [and] a number of ex-cabinet ministers."
Downing Street sources say the government pencils Monday October 14 for an election.

Today, BBC R4
Philip Hammond says the government is being disingenuous about the Brexit negotiations. There is no progress on finding a replacement for the Irish backstop. The government has tabled no proposals. There is not even a UK negotiating team.


Germany Moves Right

Titus Molkenbur, Luke Cooper

In 2015, Angela Merkel responded to the refugee crisis with a welcome. One result was that the far-right AfD party gained support. In the Saxony and Brandenburg state elections last Sunday, the AfD achieved its best-ever results.
The AfD uses the slogan "We are the people" to oppose multiculturalism. AfD party leader Alexander Gauland: "We will take back our country and our people."
AfD voters are concentrated in regions with high outward migration. Young people moved out and left dying communities behind. There the extremists in the AfD say foreign intruders are overwhelming ethnic Germans.

AR The authors blame EU policies here, but the rise of the AfD is a German problem. Massive investment in the eastern states has failed to stem the emigration. The wider refugee crisis needs a solution at European or even global level.

2019 September 2

Vote Tuesday: Very Simple

The Times

UK prime minister Boris Johnson threatens to remove the whip from Conservative MPs who vote to block a no-deal Brexit and ban them from standing as Conservatives at the next election.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer says the rebel alliance has a "very simple plan" for legislation to make a no-deal Brexit unlawful.
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove suggests the government may refuse to abide by new legislation.
A senior source in the whips' office: "The whips are telling Conservative MPs today a very simple message: if they fail to vote with the government on Tuesday, they will be destroying the government's negotiating position and handing control of parliament to Jeremy Corbyn."


UK Constitution: Divine Right

Will Hutton

The UK constitution was established in 1689 as this: What the crown assents in parliament is law.
The "glorious" notion that the crown can continue if it delegates its monarchical sovereignty to anyone commanding a majority in parliament is a wheeze that today too easily collapses into a centralized executive acting dictatorially.
The UK prime minister controls the business of the House of Commons and can prorogue it. Boris Johnson exercises the sovereignty that Charles I claimed as the divine right of kings.
Remainers needed to trump the narrative of an undemocratic Europe by recognizing more profound democratic failings at home. Remain should have stood for a re-democratized Britain that put power in the hands of the people.


Irish Backstop: No Alternative

Kate Proctor

A report summarizing the findings of HM government working groups finds issues with all the "alternative arrangements" put forward to try to replace the Irish backstop.
The leaked document is classified "official−sensitive" and dated 28 August. It concludes: "It is evident that every facilitation has concerns and issues related to them. The complexity of combining them into something more systemic and as part of one package is a key missing factor at present."
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake: "No 10 do not want to release these findings as they know Boris Johnson's bluff will be revealed."

2019 September 1

A Way Forward

Boris Johnson

We need to get a deal done. Parliament has had three whole years for delectable disputations on this matter without successfully resolving it.
I think people have felt things have been a bit becalmed for the last few years. We're trying to put a bit of a tiger in the tank, put our pedal to the metal, foot to the floor.
I think the people of this country have had a bellyful of elections. I want us to get on and do a deal. I want everybody to come together as a party and deliver.
The fundamental choice is this. Are you going to side with those who want to scrub the democratic verdict of the people and plunge this country into chaos? Or are you going to side with those of us who want to get on, deliver on the mandate of the people and focus with absolute, laser-like precision on the domestic agenda. That's the choice.
The UK government has a great deal of clarity about what it wants and a very clear vision of UK−EU relations in the future.


A Moment of Truth

Michel Barnier

Nine months ago, the EU27 reached an agreement with the UK on the terms of an orderly withdrawal. So far, the House of Commons has failed to approve the agreed package.
The backstop is all about managing the unique risks that Brexit creates in Northern Ireland. It is the maximum amount of flexibility that the EU can offer to a non-member state.
The EU is ready to explore all avenues that the UK government may present and that are compatible with the withdrawal agreement.
The UK has now come to a moment of truth. If it chooses to leave the EU without an agreement, there will be no transition period and no mini-deals. All the financial and other obligations from its past EU membership will continue to exist.
The EU cannot prevent the UK from choosing a no-deal scenario. We would still need to solve the same problems after 31 October.


A Dirty Game

Jonathan Lis

The UK political system has for decades operated according to gentlemen's conventions. Everyone assumed that the boys who passed through England's elite schools would play fairly in public life without the need for anything so vulgar as a written constitution.
Everything in UK politics is now in danger. This prorogation is about seizing power from the people's representatives and handing it to Boris Johnson. His government has learnt much from the Trump administration. Forget principle — it is all about wrong-footing opponents, briefing false lines, and focusing on how you can win.
This is what happens when you treat all politics as a game. If we ever inhabited an era of selfless public service, we certainly don't now. This is a dirty game.


A Big Black Hole

Natalie Wolchover

Among the gravitational waves detected by LIGO and Virgo since April, one signal is rumored to have come from a collision involving a black hole of 100 solar masses (⦿).
Black holes form from the remains of burnt-out stars. But when the core is too massive, it triggers a pair-instability supernova. The core grows so hot that photons pop into electron-positron pairs, losing radiation pressure and causing the core to shrink and get even hotter, in a runaway effect leading to oxygen nuclear ignition and explosion.
For cores with a mass in the 65−130 ⦿ range, the star is totally annihilated in seconds. Cores of about 50−65 ⦿ pulsate, shedding mass in a series of explosions until they drop below the instability range. There should be no black holes with masses in the 50−130 ⦿ range.
Many black holes have masses of more than 130 ⦿. But because stars shed mass throughout their lives, a star must be born weighing at least 300 ⦿ in order to end up as a 130 ⦿ core, and such giants are rare. Black holes detected by LIGO/Virgo were expected to top out at around 50 ⦿.
Whereas most of the colliding black holes that LIGO/Virgo detects probably originated as pairs of isolated stars, some of them occur in dense stellar environments such as globular clusters, where two black holes can orbit each other and spiral inward.
In a globular cluster, two big black holes could merge, and the resulting giant could merge again in the event LIGO/Virgo detected. Other stories are possible.

AR No big surprise for me here.

Milky Way

⦿ Charles Wade
How To Photograph The Milky Way
A step-by-step guide to the techniques and settings you need to shoot epic Milky Way images

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